Eyler makes up for lost time

Lacrosse: Loyola's senior midfielder treasures her time on field, after being forced off it two of the past five years.

College Lacrosse

May 09, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Loyola's Suzanne Eyler relishes every minute she spends on the lacrosse field.

Even as a second-team All-American last season and the most valuable player of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament three weeks ago, Eyler takes nothing for granted any more.

She can't after being forced out of the game for two entire seasons during the past five years - once for a teen-age mistake and once after an injury.

"It really is true that you don't miss it until it's gone," said Eyler, 21. "That's when I found out I truly loved lacrosse, because I missed it so much. I couldn't wait to play."

The North Harford graduate overcame both setbacks to emerge as a force all over the field at Loyola. A senior defensive midfielder with 48 goals and 13 assists, she plays a key role for the No. 5 Greyhounds, who face No. 8 Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 4 p.m. today at Curley Field.

"Suzanne has something a lot of good athletes do not have," said Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens. "She has a sincere appreciation for everything and everyone who has allowed her to be where she is and what she is right now. Some people get a little spoiled and feel like things are owed to them, but Suzanne doesn't feel like that. She feels she can always get better."

As a senior at North Harford in spring 1998, Eyler and some friends were caught with alcohol in the car at an on-campus dance. All Hawks athletes, including Eyler, The Sun's Harford County Player of the Year as a junior, had signed contracts pledging not to drink, smoke or take drugs. The penalty was clear. She was off the lacrosse team.

"It was devastating," said Eyler, who admitted she had been drinking before the dance. "I went through high school playing a varsity sport every season for three years, and that was my identity. I was an athlete, and when that was taken away so abruptly, I kind of lost my sense of self."

The offense did not jeopardize her scholarship. She turned in a fine freshman year at Loyola and began to break out the next year, but after four games as a sophomore, the pain in her lower legs became overwhelming.

The diagnosis: exertional compartment syndrome, a condition in which the muscles of the lower leg expand too much for the sheaths surrounding them. Eyler was out for the season after undergoing surgery on both legs the same day.

Instead of playing, she wandered the sidelines soaking up knowledge from the coaching staff. A psychology major with an interest in sports psychology, Eyler became increasingly interested in coaching as a career.

The next year, she came back to the Greyhounds' starting lineup even stronger.

"I have never seen anyone so determined in my life," said Loyola goalie Tricia Dabrowski. "She was out there every day working, improving her shooting and her skill with the stick."

Learning to deal with adversity has only made her stronger and more determined, Eyler said.

"What happened to me in high school happened for a reason. It made me appreciate the opportunities I was given, the talent that I do have and the hard work I put in to get where I was. After that, I was so grateful to get to play. When I got hurt my sophomore year, it made me appreciate lacrosse and what it means to me even more."

Her success came as no surprise to North Harford basketball coach Lin James. Eyler had shown similar determination playing point guard for the Hawks for four years.

"When you get behind, she's the kind of kid you can say, `I need you to step it up a little bit' and she'll do it," James said. "Sometimes you don't have to say it and if it's in her power, she can do it."

Awarded a medical redshirt for her sophomore season, Eyler plans to return next season.

"I feel very lucky to have that fifth year," said Eyler. "I'm not ready to leave yet, but after next season, I think I'll be ready to walk away."

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