The Loyola women's lacrosse team found out last night that its quest for an elusive national title will begin with a game against a familiar opponent.
The No. 1 Greyhounds (15-1) earned the top seed in the NCAA Division I championships and will open at home against UMBC on Thursday.
The Retrievers (10-8) gained one of the tournament's eight automatic bids by capturing their second straight Northeast Conference championship. In the season opener for both teams, Loyola defeated UMBC, 16-4, on March 4.
"I think UMBC is a very solid team and they have a lot of great athletes," said Loyola associate head coach Kerri Johnson. "I know they've improved since we played them in March. ... There are really a lot of great teams in the tournament. We were definitely excited to get the top seed."
UMBC coach Monica Yeakel knows the Greyhounds well. Yeakel played for Loyola, earning All-America honors in 1994.
"If I know Monica, she'll have her team ready to play," Johnson said.
Maryland (16-3), which missed the final four last year for the first time since 1989, was awarded the tournament's No. 2 seeding and will open at home against Temple (13-5). The Owls earned a spot in the tournament by winning the Atlantic 10 Conference.
"I am real excited and happy for our team," said Terps coach Cindy Timchal in a statement released by the Maryland athletic department.
"Taking on Temple is an added bonus as they have a rich tradition in lacrosse and in the NCAA tournament."
Loyola defeated the Terps, 9-8, Saturday in a game that may have determined the tournament's top seed. The two teams won't face each other again unless both reach the final, which will be held at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., on May 18.
Virginia (14-4) and Duke (13-4) were named the tournament's other top two seeds. The third-seeded Cavaliers will face American (11-7), and the fourth-seeded Blue Devils will take on Ohio State (13-3).
Virginia is the only team to have beaten Loyola this year; the Cavs won a 10-9 squeaker April 29 on the Greyhounds' turf.
Defending national champion Princeton (12-4), which finished the season ranked sixth, will open at home against Le Moyne (12-5), winner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
In the other tournament openers, No. 5 Georgetown (12-3) will play host to unranked James Madison (13-5), an automatic qualifier from the Colonial Athletic Association; No. 8 Dartmouth (10-4) will be host to No. 20 Boston University (14-4); and No. 9 Yale (13-3) will play host to No. 11 Syracuse (10-5).
Five teams ranked in the top 16 in the final regular-season poll of the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association failed to make the tournament field of 16: No. 12 Penn State (8-8), No. 13 Cornell (8-5), No. 14 Stanford (11-3), No. 15 Vanderbilt (7-7) and No. 16 Johns Hopkins (10-4).
Cornell defeated Maryland, 14-4, last season in the NCAA quarterfinals, ending a string of seven straight national championships for the Terps.
On the other side of the coin, Loyola has never won a national title. The Greyhounds went 15-4 in 2002 but lost to Maryland in the first round of the tournament.
Loyola won't deny that it wants to win one for head coach Diane Geppi-Aikens, who is battling inoperable brain cancer, but Johnson says the players aren't letting that dominate their focus.
"The players have always wanted to win for Diane, but they want to win for each other," Johnson said. "I don't think Diane's illness is playing a factor at all."