Illness can't keep Geppi-Aikens from today's 1-vs.-2 matchup

Laura Vecsey

THERE'S A BIG game going to take place today. Loyola vs. Maryland. Women's lacrosse.

It's the regular-season finale between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. Ludwig Field in College Park. 1 p.m.

Be there?

Would not miss it.

Could not miss it.

And if Maryland is truly the lacrosse-crazy place that it seems to be, not only will the bleachers be packed, but the standing-room-only crowd around the Ludwig Field fence ought to be deep, too - a sea of red and green - as Terps and Greyhounds fans gather for this annual rite of spring. Only this one comes with a sweet, sad, inspiring twist.

Anyone reading these sports pages, or who saw last week's issue of Sports Illustrated in which Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens penned a riveting essay about living and coaching while battling inoperable brain cancer, knows that a special lacrosse season has taken place in this state.

On a snowy day in January, soon after doctors told Geppi-Aikens that there was little left for them to do, the coach sat in her Overlea home and said she had two goals.

One was to see her oldest son graduate from high school this May. The other? She's a coach. You know what she asked: to see her Greyhounds play for a national championship.

Guess what? Loyola is 14-1 this season - undefeated until Virginia escaped with a 10-9 win Tuesday. Loyola, unaffiliated and therefore always dependent on an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, has secured a berth when the postseason starts Thursday.

"Loyola's been No. 1 in the country for eight weeks. I've been able to enjoy my kids and beat the odds," Geppi-Aikens said.

In fact, the coach is so close to achieving her goals, it almost feels like a miracle.

"I want to win every day, in sports and in life. I've already beaten the odds. I've been here longer than I should have been," Geppi-Aikens said after practice yesterday.

Geppi-Aikens was sitting in the passenger seat of her father John Geppi's big Lincoln - the car that has given him a starring and tender role in Driving Miss Diane. She gets tired. Steroids to control the tumor swell her face. Her left arm is of little use, but every day, Geppi-Aikens is out there.

"I have a team to coach," she said.

"As a leader, I'm not trying to put anything on them. I've always been an emotional coach. But we try to have a combination and balance between talent and emotions, the kids and me," she said.

It was no surprise to learn that a Hollywood producer called Geppi-Aikens this week to say her story should be made into a movie.

As if we didn't already know that. Her will to remain a vital, vibrant member of her family, school, sport, community and city is incredible - at once humbling and uplifting.

It's no wonder that opponents this season have honored Geppi-Aikens by wearing green tape on their sticks or green laces in their cleats. In a community as tight as women's lacrosse, the outpouring of love and support has found its way onto the field.

 

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