Suzanne Eyler won't graduate with her Loyola classmates next weekend, but that's just fine with her. She'd much rather play in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse final four.
The two-time All-America attacker scored four goals yesterday to lead the No. 1 Greyhounds past No. 9 Yale, 13-7, before 1,502 fans at Curley Field. Loyola now heads to the final four for the seventh time in the program's history.
But not before Eyler and her fellow seniors have their own private graduation Tuesday night at the college.
The ceremony "is one of the incentives for our seniors," said Eyler. "I've been to two of them from the last two times we went to the final four and it's so much more special than if it was 1,000 of us [graduating]."
An even bigger incentive, of course, is to win that first national championship. Although some of these Greyhounds went to the final four in 2000 and 2001, none has been to the championship game, which Loyola reached only once -- in 1997.
The route to the title game is a tough one as the Greyhounds (17-1) draw defending national champion and No. 5 Princeton, a 17-8 winner over Ohio State yesterday, in Friday night's semifinal at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
In March, the Greyhounds upset the Tigers, 9-8 in overtime, to set the tone for one of the best seasons in Loyola history. After knocking off the Tigers, the Greyhounds held the No. 1 ranking for eight of the final nine weeks. Their 17 wins are the most in school history.
Yesterday, the Greyhounds didn't have a whole lot of trouble with another Ivy League team. In the first-ever meeting between Loyola and Yale, the Greyhounds had some big defensive stands early that enabled them to get a 3-0 jump on the Bulldogs (15-4).
Defenders Tara Singleton and Kourtney Porcella forced early turnovers, and goalie Kim Lawton made a big save in the first 12 minutes. Their teammates on attack converted all three turnovers.
"We played really good team defense," said senior defender Jen Albright. "We closed in on doubles when Yale was trying to go one-on-one and Tara had some really good caused turnovers and some great checks."
The Bulldogs came right back on goals from Miles Whitman and Sarah Queener to pull within 3-2 midway through the half.
But Stephanie Walker made sure Yale did not tie the game by hitting back-to-back goals on similar moves: left-to-right cuts across the front of the crease.
The Greyhounds all but put the game away in the opening minutes of the second half. Talia Shacklock, Sydney Greene, Rachel Shuck and Kristi Korrow scored in the first 3:30 of the half to boost the lead to 9-2.
"We let up a little on transition," said Yale's top scorer Whitman, a Bryn Mawr graduate. "In the first half, we did an excellent job of pressuring the ball as they were bringing it down in their attack and we slowed them down in their settled attack and forced them to make the good plays, which they did obviously."
Shuck, who had six assists in Thursday's 18-3 semifinal win over UMBC, had four more yesterday to boost her season total to 38, which ranks second on Loyola's all-time single-season list behind Erika Mawhorr Bristow's 46 in 1993.
Yale 2 2 5 2 -- 2 7 2
Loyola 5 2 8 2 -- 2 13 2
Goals: Y--Whitman 3, Clarke 2, Queener, Sargent; L--Eyler 4, Shacklock 2, Greene 2, Walker 2, Shuck, Schuerholz, Korrow. Assists: Y--Whitman, Clarke, Queener; L--Shuck 4, Tyrrell 2. Saves: Y--Laws 3, Sarnell 5; L--Lawton 2, Ci.Nicolaus 8. 4