Like every little girl, Shannon Aikens always knew there was something special about her mother.
As a child watching Diane Geppi-Aikens coach the Loyola women's lacrosse team, Aikens saw the far-reaching influence her mother had on the sport and on the young women who played for her. That was especially evident as Geppi-Aikens battled terminal brain cancer through her final season with the Greyhounds in 2003, so it was no surprise to Aikens when her mother was named as one of nine 2015 inductees to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is set for Oct. 24 at the Grand Lodge of Maryland in Hunt Valley.
"I've kind of been waiting for that to happen," said Aikens, who wasn't upset, as some others were, that it took 12 years after Geppi-Aikens' death for her to make the Hall of Fame. "I knew it was going to happen eventually, but to know that it's finally happening this year was so exciting."
Aikens was only 9 when her mother died, so she didn't fully comprehend Geppi-Aikens' legacy until years later when she became part of the program her mother built. Aikens, a Mercy graduate, is a senior attacker for the Greyhounds.
"Being a part of a Division I team, especially this program, I can understand and almost respect a little bit more how great those accomplishments were," Aikens said. "We are, every year, looking to get to a final four, looking to get a conference championship, looking to get a national championship and to know that my mom got to the final four so many times and that she played in a national championship game, it makes it a little bit more special because I do know how difficult that is."
In 2003, Aikens watched her mother's legacy grow to legendary proportions as she coached Loyola to the NCAA final four and earned Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association Division I Coach of the Year honors for the third time. Geppi-Aikens coached most of that season from a wheelchair with her left side paralyzed from the disease and her body swollen from steroids.
A Parkville native who went on to play goalie at Loyola, Geppi-Aikens had just one losing season as a lacrosse coach, her first in 1989. She led the Greyhounds to 10 NCAA tournaments, seven final fours and one national final.
Geppi-Aikens' battle with brain cancer began in 1995. Chemotherapy and radiation fought off the early recurring tumors, but in December 2002, she was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant tumor. Her battle through the following spring brought her national media attention, but she constantly tried to deflect it to her players, who held the No. 1 ranking part of that 2003 season.
Aikens said people involved with Loyola still tell her they think of Geppi-Aikens every day and that, at the mention of Loyola lacrosse, strangers will say they know her mother's story.
"Knowing how long it's been since she's been around the Loyola community, the lacrosse community and knowing that she is still so much a part of people — that they think about her, that they've read her book and that they still feel they have a connection with her or she's influenced them in some way — just speaks volumes to the legacy that she left and the person that she was," Aikens said.
She said that same spirit would show through if her mother were here for her Hall of Fame induction.
"I think she would be very excited," said Aikens, the youngest of Geppi-Aikens' four children. "She's always accepted her accomplishments and accolades very graciously and I think she was also very humble in everything she accomplished. Although she would be so happy this has happened, I think she would still attribute it to the hard work of those teams and all the people that allowed her to do what she loved to do and coach and stay involved for so long."
Aikens said she's been especially grateful to Greyhounds coach Jen Adams for passing on Geppi-Aikens' story. Adams has said it's important to her never to let that legacy fade. Each year, she makes sure freshmen understand it by having them watch "Season of Hope," a College Sports Television documentary covering Geppi-Aikens' final season.
"I really appreciate what Jen does," Aikens said. "She always talks about the legacy of Loyola and I always get goose bumps when she says that kind of stuff because I've seen it. I grew up with it. That legacy that my mom left here was my entire childhood and being here now is that much more special to me, knowing that she was the rock in creating that."
What: National Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction ceremony
When: Oct. 24, 6 p.m.
Where: Grand Lodge of Maryland, Hunt Valley
Inductees: Jake Curran, Dom Fin, Diane Geppi-Aikens, Bob Hartranft, Julie Hull Elicker, Charlie Lockwood, Sarah Nelson, Maggie Vaugha, Brian Voelker.
Tickets: Sold out