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Loyola Maryland's women's lacrosse team has owned the Patriot League since joining the conference in 2014. This season, however, proved a bit more challenging for the rebuilding Greyhounds.

Games were closer. They even needed overtime to win one of them.

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But by this weekend's conference tournament, the young Greyhounds were ready to take ownership of the program's third straight Patriot League championship and remain perfect against conference opponents.

With goals from nine players and ten saves from senior goalie and tournament Most Valuable Player Molly Wolf, top-seeded Loyola held off a late surge from second-seeded Navy for a 12-8 victory Sunday at Ridley Athletic Complex.

The win gave the Greyhounds (14-5) an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, their sixth straight trip. They will play Duke at 5 p.m. Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C., in the first round of the tourney. If they win that game, they will advance to play No. 3 North Carolina on Sunday.

Six underclassmen were among Loyola's nine goal scorers – led by sophomore Frankie Kamely's game-high three goals. Kamely scored two of the Greyhounds' first three goals as they built a 9-3 halftime lead.

"They had to overcome a lot more being such a young unit," Loyola coach Jen Adams said, "and they had to do it with the same pressures that everyone else has faced that's come through in a Loyola uniform, same expectations but without the luxury of time to get there, so I'm very, very proud. They did awesome."

The Greyhounds have won all 31 games against Patriot League opponents in the past three years. This title, however, may have been the most rewarding because of how far they had to come after graduating their entire starting attack

"I think we knew coming out this year that we had something to prove," said Wolf, a Bryn Mawr graduate. "We wanted that three-peat of a Patriot League championship and, of course, we have young players, but we knew we could help them grow on and off the field and the whole defense stepped up this whole season and the attack as well. All around, everyone knew what they had to do."

In an 8-2 Loyola win in March, the defense – Wolf, Maddy Lesher, Bailey Mathis, Amy Abdalla and Kristen Yanchoris (Century) – held Navy to its lowest offensive output of the season.

But the Midshipmen (13-6) were in a similar position to Loyola, rebuilding at key positions although they returned almost 60 percent of their offense. They wanted to guide Navy back to its former dominance, taking four straight Patriot League titles before Loyola arrived.

Navy started the conference season 0-2 and had to battle back to earn the second-seed in the tournament.

"We just had to learn from our mistakes and realize we're not the same team at the end of the season as we were when we started," said Navy junior Morgan Young, a Towson graduate. "Starting 0-2, that fired us up. This is the second season in a row where we had an early loss that was unexpected, but that only can make us stronger."

Young, who led Navy with two goals and two assists, scored her first goal to start the second half, but Loyola's Cami Whiteford answered off a pass from Maddy Blakeman, who finished with a goal and three assists.

The Midshipmen still trailed 10-4, but they rallied to cut the Greyhounds' lead to two with 6:03 left. Wolf kept them at bay with four saves, including a couple of spectacular close-range stops to keep her team in the lead.

Andie O'Sullivan started the run on a feed from Young to pull within 10-5. Young scored her second goal before Katie Gallagher (C. Milton Wright) fired a rocket past Wolf on a free position. Meg O'Donnell (North Harford) then scored an extra-man goal on a feed from Jenna Collins (River Hill) to pull within 10-8.

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Navy won seven of eight draws in the half to keep attacking, including one from Blake Smith after their eighth goal, but Wolf saved shots from Collins and Gallagher to preserve the lead. The Greyhounds had the ball most of the final three minutes and Kamely and Margaret Fillippelli added the last two goals.

"We started a little rough," said Loyola senior defender Maddy Lesher, whose team went 2-4 against a tough non-conference schedule before meeting its first Patriot League opponent. "But as the season went on, we had a game plan to go undefeated in the Patriot League. We knew it was going to be tough because everyone's gunning for us but that's exactly what we did. This game today, I think it was an all-out effort on all sides, defense, middie, attack and goalie."

In addition to Wolf, who also had nine saves in the 13-8 semifinal win over Lehigh, Lesher, Kamely and Sabrina Tabasso were named to the All-Tournament Team from Loyola while Young, Jenna Collins and Molly Doyle made it from Navy.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kdunnsun

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