Level-headed Loyola is just a little giddy about the big time

March 16, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

For students at Loyola College, it's "all anyone has talked about," it's "energized people," it's "not like anything we've seen here in four years."

For administrators -- who, after all, are paid to be a little more level-headed -- it's a pat on the back for "an athletic department and a coach that embodied the right values." And a darn fine recruiting tool, too.

Please excuse the students and faculty at Loyola's Evergreen campus if they seem a little over-enthusiastic, if they're walking a little taller these days and reveling in their newfound glory.

Loyola College in Maryland -- tiny Loyola -- is going to the NCAA basketball tournament, twice. Both the men's and women's teams will be playing in first-round action this week. And the Greyhounds are one proud bunch.

"It'll be great just seeing Loyola guys at the Big Dance," says Mike Hopkins, a senior from Towson, "especially since last year [the men's team] was just 2-25. When you're growing up, you think you have to go to North Carolina or somewhere to go to the Big Dance."

This is the first time either Big Dance has beckoned Loyola since it moved to the NCAA's Division I, the most competitive classification, in 1981. By winning their respective Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourneys, the women earned a trip to Charlottesville, Va., where they'll play the University of Virginia at 7:30 p.m. today. The men will be heading for Sacramento, Calif., to play the University of Arizona on Friday. That game is scheduled to begin around 5 p.m., depending on when the preceding game ends.

More than 1,000 students crammed into McGuire Hall -- the school's old gymnasium -- Sunday to hear the announcement of who and where the men would be playing. A rally has been scheduled for 11 a.m. today, to give the men a send-off as they board a bus for the airport.

And that's not the only bus that will be heading down Charles Street today. A load of loyal fans will be making for Charlottesville this afternoon, to cheer the women on.

Even the women's lacrosse team is hoping to take a bus directly from today's game at Penn State to Charlottesville.

For Duke or UCLA or even Maryland, making the tournament may not qualify as a life-changing spectacle. But for a 3,000-student college nestled at the corner of Coldspring Lane and Charles Street, this is the big time. Especially for a student body used to success in lacrosse and soccer, but whose basketball teams have served as little more than a bridge between the two seasons.

"It's been like Loyola-mania," says Jennifer Pawelczyk, a sophomore from New Jersey. "I've never seen this campus so together."

"It's been crazy. It's like the whole campus has finally woken up," agrees Meredith Bane, a sophomore from Croton, N.Y. "It's kind of hard not to get into it."

It's certainly hard not to see the signs. One spread over the rear entrance of the school's Wynnewood Towers dormitory reads: "Greyhounds R Tourney Bound." Sheets of paper extolling the teams' praises are plastered all over the registrar's office (where the women's MAAC trophy is on display). Thomas Scheye, the college's acting president, has "G-R-E-Y-H-O-U-N-D-S" spelled out across his windows.

"People here have never been this excited," says Sue Ferrone, a senior from New Jersey who hung a banner reading "Let's Go Loyola #1 MAAC Champs" from the apartment she shares with three other students.

"This last week has been full of the kinds of experiences that students will talk about at their 25th reunion," says Dr. Scheye. "After the weather and with the delays of the last two months . . . everybody has just been drawn together by this."

What makes it even more exciting, students and administrators seem to agree, is the lofty position athletes don't occupy on Loyola's campus. There are no athletes-only dorms. The media -- at least until this past week -- never made much of a fuss over players such as Patty Stoffey, Tracy Bergan and Michael Reese.

"On this campus, the players are known by everybody," Dr. Scheye says. "They are students like everybody else. When the student body comes out to cheer, they're not just cheering victory, they're cheering friends."

"I have a lot of friends who go to bigger schools," says Tom Welsch, a junior from Towson who plays on the lacrosse team. "To see Loyola on ESPN . . . to me, that's a pretty crazy thing. Here, you bump into [the players]. It's not like they're celebrities or anything. To see them on ESPN is kinda great."

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