Look Who's No. 1

April 15, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

When Loyola's women's lacrosse players heard Monday that they had moved to No. 1 in the national rankings, they thought someone had confused them with the men's team, which had earned its own top ranking the day before.

The Greyhounds never expected to jump from No. 2 despite a 12-0 start and one of the toughest schedules in the nation.

For the past two weeks, Maryland sat at No. 1 and Loyola figured the Terrapins had a lock on that spot unless they lost.

"We were really surprised," said Gina Roberts, a senior midfielder from Severna Park. "We thought since we didn't play Maryland yet, and they were ranked No. 1, it would come down to the last game [April 26]."

Instead, the Greyhounds are celebrating early.

Monday, they received their first No. 1 ranking in the Brine/Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association poll. Maryland (6-0) dropped to No. 2.

For now though, the Greyhounds are trying to keep their excitement in check. A No. 1 ranking in mid-April won't mean much if they don't make it into the NCAA tournament.

In the meantime, Loyola will try to defend its Colonial Athletic Association title at Curley Field beginning with today's 4 p.m. quarterfinal against American. No. 4 Virginia comes to town for a game that has been switched to April 21, followed by Maryland for the regular-season finale.

By then, the only number the Greyhounds really don't want to see is seven.

"We've been seventh two years in a row, and they take six teams [for the NCAA tournament]. That gets old," said coach Diane Aikens, a Parkville High and Loyola graduate.

The rest of the numbers seem to be stacking in Loyola's favor. The last time the Greyhounds started 12-0, they went to the NCAA semifinals. That was in 1990, and only one player remains from that team, senior defender Monica DiCandilo.

Since then, Aikens has built another powerhouse with some of the finest local high school talent.

Aikens carries 17 Marylanders on her roster of 26. Three were Baltimore Sun players of the year -- Erika Mawhorr (Severna Park), a first-team All-American who led the nation in scoring last season, as well as Betsy Given (Broadneck) and Stephanie Roberts (Severna Park). Eight others also were All-Metro picks.

"I'm a big believer that the talent is here in Baltimore and Maryland, so we don't need to go anywhere else," said Aikens. "We've had trouble getting the local kids to come here because they want to go away, but now we have the reputation athletically and academically that we can draw the kids here."

Aikens certainly doesn't overlook out-of-town talent. Two of her best are defender Tricia Grant from Virginia, last year's most valuable Greyhound, and attacker Tara Kramer from Pennsylvania, a third-team All-American two years ago who missed most of last season with a knee injury.

With 12 seniors, the Greyhounds have plenty of experience, and that has pulled them through some tight games including Saturday's gutsy, come-from-behind 11-10 win over No. 5 Harvard.

Harvard, which had beaten Loyola, 17-9, a year ago, used tremendous speed to run up a 5-1 lead and force the Greyhounds to switch to a defense they had not used before. To counter that speed, Aikens had her attack and midfield attack players drop to help the defenders slow things down.

"A lot of times, we get these teams coming out with big, huge bursts of energy," said defense wing Kerry Carlson [Centennial]. "We get back on our heels, but we have the maturity to collect ourselves. We try to slow the attack's fast break down to a settled attack, and that's when we're real strong."

Loyola also showed off a balanced attack that Aikens has made a priority. Seven Greyhounds contributed goals or assists. Gina Roberts scored five goals, including the game-winner on her 100th career goal.

But for Aikens and the Greyhounds, Saturday's win did more than just boost them to No. 1.

"That was a big game because people question us every year," said Aikens. "They question whether Loyola can beat the big boys. [Saturday], I told the team, people out there are questioning you. It's just a matter of going out and showing them."

There surely aren't many doubters left.

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