Making the Final Four seemed only a remote possibility for Loyola in late March as the Greyhounds watched three starters go out with injuries.
In 11 years, coach Diane Geppi-Aikens had never lost more than one starter in a single season. But within a week, top scorers Megan Santacroce and Suzanne Eyler, and key defender Marianne Gioffre were gone for the season."Those losses were devastating to us, on and off the field," said Geppi-Aikens. "They knocked the wind out of our sails initially."
But not for long. The Greyhounds (16-4) responded by winning more games than any other Loyola team. After the injuries, they won nine in a row to complete a 12-game win streak."I'm really proud of how this team has come back," said Geppi-Aikens. "Jenny Testrake, Kory Miller, Stacey Morlang, Stephanie Sweet - they've all been OK players and very consistent, but they really stepped up, playing a little bit above their heads."
The Greyhounds have also gotten some great performances from goalie Tricia Dabrowski. Her goals against average dropped to 6.44 and her save percentage is up to .645 - both the best in the nation.
Sea Gulls battle tradition
Salisbury State is making its first appearance in the semifinals and the No. 7 Sea Gulls drew the team with the most storied history in Division III women's lacrosse. The College of New Jersey, the host for the Final Four, has won 10 crowns since 1985, most recently in 1998.
The No. 1 Lions (15-0), who were upset by Amherst in last year's national semifinal, dealt the Sea Gulls their worst loss of the season, 18-6, in New Jersey on March 17.
But Gulls coach Dawn Chamberlin doesn't expect her team to be intimidated."We know we're the underdogs," said Chamberlin. "We've lost to them already and we're the fourth seed coming in. We have nothing to lose. The pressure is not on us. The pressure is on them. We know what they're capable of doing and we think we can mount a defense to stop that."
While the Sea Gulls' attack - the most potent in Division III, averaging 19.5 goals per game - has drawn the most attention, their defense has allowed just 7.7 goals per game and has limited opponents to single digits 11 times.
Goalie Lisa LeBeau, a senior from Towson High who split time last year, has allowed just 7.6 goals per game and has a .523 save percentage. Carolyn Murray and Kelly Eberling (Maryvale) also play key defensive roles.
Junior Jen Mezzadra (Parkville) leads an attack that was held to its lowest output of the season by the Lions. The Gulls' all-time points leader has scored 77 goals with 17 assists this season. She needs just four more points to hit 200.
Who can beat the Terps?
Princeton coach Chris Sailer knows what it's like to beat Maryland in the national championship - her Tigers were the last team to do so in 1994.
She admitted it would be difficult for Princeton, James Madison or Loyola to dethrone the five-time defending champs, but that it would not be impossible even though the Terps beat the other final four teams by a combined margin of 50-26."You look at their scores against the other three teams coming into this tournament and you might think, 'Do we just give them the trophy now?'" said Sailer. "But anything can happen in these kinds of games. I think Georgetown proved that when you stick with a game plan and play well you have a shot at beating Maryland."
The Hoyas played a near flawless possession game to push the Terps to overtime in Sunday's quarterfinal, before Maryland pulled out a 7-6 win."[Maryland has] such a tradition and program, it's what everyone tries to emulate," said Sailer. "They are clearly the favorites, but I don't think anyone in this field is going to lay down and roll over when they play them."
The Sappington family of Bel Air is going for two national championships - Annie Sappington plays for Salisbury and her sister, Rachel, plays at James Madison. ... Maryland's Jen Adams has scored in 50 straight games and has at least one goal in her last 31 games. ...Terps teammate Quinn Carney has a 49-game scoring streak going. ...Salisbury State set new single-season team records for most wins (15), goals (332) and assists (181). ...Loyola's Geppi-Aikens won her 150th game in the quarterfinals. ...Loyola's Morlang has scored more goals in a single season (62) than any Greyhound since the program moved to Division I. ...Maryland's win over Georgetown was its 47th consecutive non-conference win, a streak that began after Loyola's 7-6 upset victory at Ludwig Field on April 22, 1997.