Loyola's Morlang goes on offensive

Greyhound is one of best sharpshooters in women's lacrosse

Women's Lacrosse Preview

College Lacrosse

February 28, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

When Stacey Morlang arrived at Loyola College, she had one exceptional lacrosse skill - shooting.

Back home in Australia, that's about all she did. As a result, over the past three years, the Greyhounds senior has developed into one of the best sharpshooters in the women's college game.

As the No. 6 Greyhounds prepare for their opener Tuesday night at UMBC, Morlang is the only player from a Maryland Division I school chosen preseason first-team All-America by Lacrosse Magazine.

Her 62 goals helped the Greyhounds reach the NCAA Division I tournament semifinals a year ago, where they lost, 10-9, to Georgetown despite three Morlang goals. She already has 158 career goals, ranking fourth on Loyola's all-time list.

"Facing her shots every day is not fun," Greyhounds senior goalie Tricia Dabrowski said with a laugh. "She has a very fast shot, but her shot is very accurate. Maybe twice in four years, I've gotten hit with one of her shots."

Opponents know all about the speed and accuracy of Morlang's shots. They also know about her range.

"Not many girls can shoot from 8 meters or a little bit past," said former Maryland defender Courtney Martinez-Connor, "but she just cranks the ball, and she can hit the upper corner from that far out. You really have to deny her from getting the ball, because if she has it in her stick, she will go to goal."

Morlang - a first-team All-American and Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year last season - honed her attack skills on club teams, state teams and the Australian under-19 team before she came to America.

"People sort of specialized in one thing at home," said Morlang, "and I was the one who received the ball and took the shot. I didn't play with the ball and try to beat anyone, whereas here, you can do that or you can try something else."

The level of lacrosse competition lured Morlang, 20, to Loyola.

She heard about the college game from Chelsea Morley, the first Australian to play for the Greyhounds, and she met coach Diane Geppi-Aikens in 1997, when the Loyola team traveled to Australia and played against her Victoria state team.

Once in the United States, Morlang didn't need long to adapt to the style of the college game. She quickly picked up new skills and became a more well-rounded player at center midfield.

"She had to learn to play better defense, and she had to learn parts of the game she wasn't used to doing on a regular basis, and, boy, did she adapt as a freshman," Geppi-Aikens said. "She wasn't on the field [for] minutes when you could see this kid was going to be something."

As a freshman, Morlang tied for the most goals on the team with 31. As a sophomore, she scored 65 - the most ever in a Loyola Division I season. As a junior, her 84 points were just two off the team single-season record.

Despite her success and the ensuing accolades, Morlang still pushes herself on the field. What amazes her teammates as much as her skill level is her ability to leave the game on the field.

"She's competitive and aggressive. She wants to win and be the best, but it's a different mentality," teammate Suzanne Eyler said. "It isn't do or die. It isn't that pressure-filled mentality some of us have grown up with here at home to always be the best."

Eyler said she and the other Greyhounds believe that's a cultural difference. For Morlang, it's just natural.

The lacrosse system she grew up in - a club system rather than an interscholastic system - was much less intense.

"At home, it's sort of relaxed, and it's not something people give up their time for because there's not enough to gain from it," said Morlang. "Here, it's a lot different. If you can't get better playing the way you do here, then you're never going to get better."

The drive to excel comes from within in the Australian club system, because not all teams have coaches. Often, the younger players learn from the older ones.

"It's basically on an individual level. You have to do it on your own," said Morlang, "because you don't practice enough, and you don't get taught. I was never taught to do stuff. I just sort of watched the older players and did it on my own."

That atmosphere fostered a maturity not only in Morlang's game but in every aspect of her life.

"She was only 17 when she was a freshman, and she walked straight on the field and was ready to play," Greyhounds assistant coach Kerri Johnson said. "Playing on the club level there, the A level, she always played with older players."

Morlang's natural leadership ability emerged on the field, but she was careful not to take too much liberty as a young player off the field.

Now, she leads the Greyhounds in every respect.

"She's a great leader," Dabrowski said. "Every day, she's out there playing as hard as she can. The younger girls see that, and it makes them want to work just as hard."

Before Morlang heads back to Australia to pursue a career in criminology and a future with the Australian national team, she would like nothing more than to lead the Greyhounds to their first national championship, especially because Loyola will be host of the Division I Final Four May 17-19.

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