Loyola women draw Va. Mount paired with Iowa

March 14, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

It wasn't as if they didn't know what was coming.

By capturing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship last Sunday, the Loyola women's basketball players had known for a week that they would be going to the NCAA tournament.

Because the Greyhounds (18-10) were the first team officially to capture a bid to the 64-team field, the NCAA had arranged to have a live television shot of the team when its slot, the 14th in the Mideast Region, was announced on ESPN yesterday.

None of that, however, kept the Loyola players from whooping it up when they learned that they would face third seed and regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia on Wednesday night in Charlottesville.

They yelled so loudly that coach Pat Coyle could not hear questions from the ESPN anchors.

The reaction was no less subdued in Emmitsburg, where the Mount St. Mary's team and 100 family members and friends gathered to learn that they were seeded 14th in the Midwest and would face Iowa, the third seed, on Wednesday.

"What a great feeling for these kids," said Loyola's Coyle. "They've never experienced anything like this before. It's unbelievable."

Said Mountaineers coach Bill Sheahan, whose team won the Northeast Conference tournament Saturday night: "It really is difficult to describe. It was complete excitement, and it kept building and building as we were waiting for our names to be called. At one point, I was thinking, 'Have they forgotten us?' "

The exhilaration of earning their first NCAA bids may pass soon, because Loyola and Mount St. Mary's (25-3) face tremendous challenges.

The Greyhounds, who have no postseason experience, must go to University Hall, where no road team has won in a school-record 39 games, to face Virginia (25-4). The Cavaliers have been to three Final Fours (1990, 1991, 1992).

"I kind of expected that we were going to [face] one of the top four seeds in a region," said Coyle. "But this is what March Madness is all about. They [the Cavaliers] are a good team, but this is a whole new team from the one that went to those Final Fours."

Said Loyola forward Patty Stoffey: "We've been working really hard. The girls here are not thinking about just getting there. We want to go in, and we want to win."

The Mountaineers' task is no easier. They must beat the Hawkeyes, who reached the Final Four last season, losing to runner-up Ohio State in overtime.

Despite the loss of leading scorer Tia Jackson (Mardela Springs) in December to a knee injury, Iowa (20-6) has remained formidable, finishing third in the Big Ten.

"People say it [the Mountaineers' chances] are a shot in the dark, but it's there, and we have to take it," said Susie Rowlyk, the NEC Player of the Year and most valuable player of the league tournament.

The nine-member tournament selection committee passed on Maryland, whose run of six straight NCAA tournaments ended.

The Terps (15-13) had an 8-8 ACC record, reached the tournament semifinals and played a difficult schedule that included 13 games against tournament teams and seven against teams that drew No. 3 seeds or better.

"We thought our strength of schedule would help us, but 13 losses really put us in a tenuous position," said Maryland coach Chris Weller.

Maryland had victories over tournament invitees Rutgers, Old Dominion, Texas and Clemson and narrow losses to Southern California and Washington. However, the Terps also lost three times to Virginia and twice to North Carolina.

"We just think, compared to the rest of the field, we didn't have room for them," said Linda Bruno, associate commissioner of the Big East and chair of the selection committee. "I appreciate the fact that they did play a very good schedule and they do have some good wins, but the fact of the matter is they have 13 losses."

Said Weller: "We're going to continue to play a schedule that prepares us for national competition. We know that that put us in a difficult situation, but that's part of the competitive process."

Reaction from ACC coaches was mixed.

"Maryland finished fourth, but just didn't have enough wins," said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell. "You can say all you want about strength of schedule, but you have to win a certain number of games."

Said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan: "Maryland played a tough schedule this year, but unfortunately, I guess they didn't win enough games on that schedule. I thought they were deserving of a bid."

That the ACC, which has produced four Final Four teams in the past five years, could only get three teams into the newly expanded field drew criticism from league coaches.

"The way the ACC was treated overall was kind of a slap in the face," said Ryan. "We're going to have to prove ourselves even more now."

Said Weller: "That was what we thought would help us get in. We thought the history of the conference would get four teams in, and we knew we would be the fourth. We just had to do a better job [with their record]."

The Southeastern Conference received six bids, the Big Ten and Pacific-10 five each.

Tennessee (Mideast), Penn State (Midwest), Purdue (West) and Connecticut (East) were chosen as the four top seeds. Purdue is the first school to receive No. 1 seeds in the men's and women's tournaments in the same year.

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