Dark days history for Loyola's Rath

Basketball: Two years ago, in the throes of pain from a torn-up knee, the forward could hardly have imagined becoming a 1,000-point scorer for the Greyhounds women.

March 01, 2001|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Erica Rath surprisingly smiles when she recalls the exact date: Jan. 27, 1999.

That was the day Rath had surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, thus ending a promising sophomore season three months early.

She remembers a grueling six months of rehabilitation that resulted from an injury she suffered in a non-contact drill in practice.

More painful to Rath, now a senior forward on the Loyola women's basketball team, were the games she had to watch from the bench as a senior-dominated Greyhounds team came up short in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.

But it's easy for her to smile now. Her knee is just about fully recovered. She is at the top of her game at the season's most critical juncture, averaging more than 11 points and four rebounds per game. Just two weeks ago, she became only the 14th player in Loyola history to score 1,000 points.

"It never was a goal of mine to do that, especially since I missed all that time, but I guess it just shows you that hard work and consistency pays off," said Rath, a 6-foot-2 forward from Hazlet, N.J. "What made it more special was it came against St. Peter's [Feb. 10], and that was a big win for us."

More important to Rath than personal accolades is the fact that the Greyhounds - winners of seven of their last eight games to close out a solid regular season - are playing their best basketball of the season entering the 2001 MAAC tournament, which will start tomorrow at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.

"Having to sit out and watch forced me to appreciate the time I have on the court and made me realize just how fortunate I am to be able to play," she said. "Since this is my last season, I want to leave it all on the court. Winning the MAAC has been our goal every year and we've always come up just short."

The Greyhounds (18-9, 12-6), who will play Niagara tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in the MAAC quarterfinals, finished the season in third place in the standings, behind Siena and Fairfield. They have lost only once since late January, and the play of Rath, along with her front-line partner, sophomore center and Meade graduate Katie Netherton (10 points, nine rebounds) is a big reason for that.

"As of February, she [Rath] has really come on. I think the difference is she's shooting the ball a lot more, which is what we want her to do," said coach Cindy Anderson. "Katie and Erica make it hard for people to match up. You have to worry about both players."

Rath provides several worries for opposing defenses. She is adept at scoring in the post, and she can hit the mid-range jump shot. Throw in the ability to rebound and finish on the break and you have a player who has given more than her share of headaches to MAAC coaches.

She has also shown the ability to be at her best in Loyola's biggest games, a fact that bodes well for the Greyhounds with the arrival of the tournament.

The Greyhounds also look to Rath for leadership. A biology major with a 3.7 grade-point average, she knows exactly where her teammates should be on the floor, although that doesn't mean she will get upset with a teammate if she's not there.

"I'm much more comfortable leading by example," said Rath. "Within the last couple of years, I've become a bit more vocal, but I have to step out of my comfort zone to do that."

"It's not what she says, but what she does," said senior point guard Shannon Cohen (Mercy). "She leads by example, sets the tone in practice and steps up when she has to."

Cohen and Anderson also remember how Rath, part of the winningest class in Loyola history (71-42), dealt with her season-ending injury, and attest that she didn't once get down on herself.

"The injury really helped me grow as a person," Rath said. "It made me tougher and stronger. It was a difficult time, but I knew putting my head down wouldn't help me and wouldn't help my team."

Now, all Erica Rath can do is smile.

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