Coach Diane Geppi-Aikens doesn't think her No. 11 Loyola team has reached its potential yet, and she likes being in that position going into this weekend's Colonial Athletic Association tournament in Richmond.
After adjusting to the loss of three injured starters, Megan Santacroce, Suzanne Eyler and Marianne Gioffre, the Greyhounds (9-2, 5-1 CAA) have won seven straight.
"We're just coming into our own," said Geppi-Aikens. "We've had to change some things on our offense and on defense and we're getting better every day. Some other teams in the country, I think, are maxing out and this team is nowhere near reaching its potential."
The CAA Tournament, which begins with a 7 p.m. quarterfinal tonight against American, kicks off a tough season-ending stretch that includes No. 8 Delaware, No. 7 Virginia and No. 1 Maryland. In the CAA final on Sunday, Loyola could face James Madison.
The Greyhounds and the Dukes have met in four straight CAA finals. The Dukes won last year, 17-6. The three previous finals were one-goal battles, with Loyola winning in 1996 and 1998.
This year, the CAA Tournament holds additional incentive: the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"It's a wonderful thing if you can walk away with an automatic bid," said Geppi-Aikens, "but it's not like basketball where you go straight to the NCAA tournament. We're just looking at it as a great opportunity, because we have so many big games after that."
Despite the winning streak, the Greyhounds have fallen from No. 8 to No. 11 in the coaches' poll.
The Greyhounds have lost only to No. 3 James Madison and No. 6 North Carolina and are the only team to beat No. 2 Princeton.
"It's just not logical," said Aikens. "It means nothing, because the NCAA tournament committee will put the best 12 teams in there and we'll be one of them. We have some work to do first."
With Saturday's 8-6 win at Sacred Heart, UMBC extended its Northeast Conference winning streak to 17 straight games.
The Retrievers, two-time conference tournament champs, have won 13 straight regular-season games. The streak might have grown on Sunday, but the Retrievers' game at Quinnipiac in Hamden, Conn. was postponed because of snow.
After doing so well in the conference, coach Monica Yeakel is looking for more success against non-conference foes. Earlier this season, the Retrievers beat then-No. 11 George Mason, 13-11, for their first win of the season over a ranked team.
They also played well against then-No. 9 Loyola in an 11-7 loss.
"This team believes more in themselves and in each other," said Yeakel, in her fourth season with the Retrievers. "We still have hurdles to get over, but each year we're getting closer and closer to where we want to be."
The Retrievers have plenty to build on. Two sophomores have scored 19 goals each -- Jamie Gerhart (C. Milton Wright) and Ashley Staines (Overlea). Junior Renee Tirocchi (Catonsville) is the top point-getter with 23 (17 goals).
The defensive stalwarts are mostly juniors, too, including Michelle Clancy and goalie Amy Jagoda (Mount Hebron).
The return of two seniors has bolstered the defense. Kim Brown, a two-time high school All-American, joined the Retrievers last year and Simone Stalling (Friends), an All-Conference player two years ago, returned after a year off to concentrate on her studies.