COLLEGE PARK - Immediately after their rally from three goals down for a 9-8 win over Maryland, the Loyola women's lacrosse players circled around their coach, Diane Geppi-Aikens, to begin a celebration that would linger.
Fifteen, 20 minutes after Suzanne Eyler's fourth goal - with 26 seconds left - that lifted the top-ranked Greyhounds over the No. 2 Terrapins, a crowd of 50 supporters continued to clap while standing on the Ludwig Field bleachers.
It might have been possible to ask Loyola (15-1) to act as if it had been there before. But the players could honestly tell you they hadn't. Before yesterday, Maryland (16-3) had never lost a home game in the series, and only two overall in 23 matches.
So it wasn't just winning for Geppi-Aikens, whose battle with inoperable brain cancer has attracted national coverage. Though their coach was a source of inspiration, pride also nagged at every player who got on the bus at Evergreen, hoping to win at Ludwig for the first time.
"It would have been a great win either way," said Eyler, a senior and two-time All-American who scored three times in the last 12:23.
Handing Maryland its second straight loss (after a defeat to Princeton on Wednesday) likely means Loyola will retain its top ranking, despite losing to Virginia on Tuesday. It also should solidify a high seeding when the NCAA announces its tournament field today.
In evaluating the Greyhounds' chances in the tournament, a win like this is a trustier one than the 1997 and 2002 regular-season victories over Maryland at Curley Field. Both were followed by losses to the Terrapins in the postseason.
"This team will be able to win two in a row," Geppi-Aikens said. "I have no doubt that this team can step up to the plate."
The game was one that lived up to expectations associated with a matchup between No. 1 and No. 2. Momentum never found a home, with the teams battling equally all the way to the end, when national Player of the Year candidate Kelly Coppedge's pass to Kristie Leggio ended up in the hands of the Greyhounds, ending the Terps' final threat.
"Here, we had two great teams competing against each other," Maryland coach Cindy Timchal said. "Maryland put it all on the line. We just came out on the short end."
Loyola - with goals from Eyler, Susan Tyrrell and Talia Shacklock - owned the first eight minutes in taking a 3-0 lead, which lasted all of seven minutes. Maryland got two goals each from Coppedge, Delia Cox and Sonia Judd to take a 6-4 lead just inside the second half.
But even as the Terrapins scored two quick goals to go up 8-5 with a little more than 20 minutes remaining, they couldn't take advantage of their opportunities. Annie Collins and Jessica Dorney's scores - three minutes apart - came out of a stalling strategy to keep the ball and ensure quality shots.
But with Loyola goalie Cindy Nicolaus playing in relief of Kim Lawton, Maryland's quality shots simply resulted in the ball going to the Greyhounds.
That put the pressure on Alexis Venechanos. The Terps' goalie, who had 12 saves in the game and allowed only two in the middle 40 minutes, gave up four Loyola scores in the final dozen minutes.
Eyler started the comeback with an unassisted goal, followed by a score from Jen Schuerholz at the 11:03 mark, and tied the game off a free-position shot with 7:41 left.
Her style on the game-winner was fitting for the back-and-fourth contest - a constant left-to-right effort to shake her defender for several seconds before she found the net on what she called a freelance goal.
"That's not normally how it goes," she said.
For her team on this day, that could be said for a lot of things.
Loyola 4 5 - 9
Maryland 5 3 - 8
Goals: L-Eyler 4, Borrone, Shacklock, Tyrrell, Walker, Schuerholz; M-Coppedge 3, Cox 2, Judd, Collins, Dorney. Assists: M-Judd 2, Collins, Leggio. Saves: L-Lawton 6, Nicolaus 5; M-Venechanos 12.
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