Last August, as is their custom, Loyola's Gigi Mangione and her father spent an afternoon in their backyard in Parkville, kicking the ball and talking soccer. They do it every summer — a casual bonding between a dad, who once played for the Blast, and his daughter, a former high school All-American and one of the area's brightest stars.
"We practice shooting and trapping, and just chat about stuff," said Nick Mangione, 54, a midfielder whose four years with the Blast produced 53 goals and the MISL championship in 1984. "I tell Gigi a story or two about the old days and give her positive reinforcement.
"I tell her, 'Play your game, feel the energy and enjoy it. Because, before you know it, it's all over.' "
Loyola plays at Duke on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Heavy underdogs, the Greyhounds (12-5-4) tackle a Duke team that lost in the final of last year's College Cup. The Blue Devils, a No. 3 seed, are 12-5-2.
Loyola wouldn't be playing this weekend without Mangione (McDonogh), a senior midfielder who scored one goal and assisted on the other in a 2-1 victory over Marist for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship last week.
In the stands, smiling broadly, was Nick Mangione, a Loyola All-American and the school's No. 4 all-time scorer who starred for the Greyhounds' 1976 NCAA Division II champions.
"It's the first time I ever saw him cry," his daughter said.
Gigi Mangione's play earned her the tournament's Most Valuable Player award for the second time and sends the Loyola women into the NCAAs for their eighth appearance. They've yet to win there.
To that end, Mangione spent this week scouring the Internet, collecting stories of the greatest upsets in the history of college sports.
"I'm going to share them [with the team] in a pregame speech," she said.
That Loyola is 0-7 in NCAA tournament play could be a plus, players said.
"Duke has never heard of us, so why would they take us seriously? But they don't know our potential if we all come together," Mangione said. "On any given day…"
That well-trod mantra made the rounds at practice this week.
"Every team has to win sometime, so maybe this is it for us," said Nichole Schiro, a senior forward and the program's all-time leading scorer (52 goals).
"If we catch [Duke] on their heels, we can take advantage," said Kelsey Rene, a senior back and the only Greyhound who has faced Duke before. A transfer from Florida International, Rene played for the Panthers squad that fought the Blue Devils to a scoreless tie in 2010.
No one knows the enemy better than Loyola coach Katherine Vettori, a 1996 Duke grad who finds it "fitting" that her first game in five years as a head coach against her alma mater should come in postseason play.
"I'm thrilled to be going home, so to speak," said Vettori, a college All-American and scoring leader who led Duke to a 60-23-7 mark as a four-year starter. Vettori (then Remy) was a freshman on the 1992 team that lost the NCAA championship to Mia Hamm-led North Carolina, 9-1.
She still holds the school record for points scored in one game (seven).
There's a stack of Duke memorabilia in her Howard County home, Vettori said, but — this week, at least — it has all been stored away.
"I had a wonderful experience at Duke, and now, to take my team there on the same field, to play a team that played for the national championship last year — it doesn't get any better than that," Vettori said.
"Can we win? It's the big dance, anything can happen," she said. "Duke probably isn't making adjustments for us. I'm hoping that they are completely overlooking us. They lost early in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, so it'll be almost two weeks since they played."
"We have a plan," the coach said. "And remember, we have nothing to lose."
As Mangione goes, so go the Greyhounds, Vettori said.
"She's a fighter, the playmaker with the soccer mind. She's the engine that keeps us going."
Her father's words of summer still sound in Mangione's head.
Play your game, feel the energy and enjoy it. Because, before you know it, it's all over.
Not if she can help it.
"People look at our 0-7 playoff record and say it's about to be 0-8," Mangione said. "But there's something else my dad always says.
"Believe."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun