Shortly after the Loyola Maryland women’s lacrosse team wrapped up an 18-8 thumping of James Madison in Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second round, Shay Clevenger searched for her mother Elizabeth in the stands at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore to find out how her sister Eloise and her teammates at Maryland had fared against Duke that same afternoon.
“Right when our game ended, I looked up at my mom like, ‘Did Eloise win?’” recalled Shay Clevenger, a senior defender. “She gave me a thumbs up, so I knew that El won.”
A little more than 35 miles south in College Park, Eloise Clevenger — after the Terps’ 19-6 rout of the Blue Devils — had confirmed the same for Shay and the Greyhounds.
“As soon as I got back into the locker room, I quickly checked my phone, and I was excited to find out,” said Eloise Clevenger, a sophomore attacker.
Thursday’s quarterfinal stage will be an exhilarating time for the Clevenger family. The day will open with Eloise and No. 2 seed Maryland (18-1) welcoming No. 7 seed Florida (17-4) to the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex in College Park at noon. Then Shay and No. 6 seed Loyola (20-1) will challenge No. 3 seed and reigning national champion Boston College (17-3) at Newton Campus Lacrosse & Soccer Field in Boston at 2:30 p.m.
Both Shay and Eloise Clevenger, Marriotts Ridge graduates, said reaching this round together is meaningful.
“It’s definitely so exciting,” Shay, 21, said. “Last year, we lost in the Sweet 16. So we’re moving on further than we did last year. We have so much fun together. So it’s fun that we get another opportunity to practice and play with each other. Just for Eloise, her freshman year ended in the same round that my year last year did. So just watching her and seeing her play so well for Maryland and seeing them advance is very fun.”
Said Eloise, 20: “Shay’s a really hard worker, and their team has done great this year. So I’m excited that we’re both in the Elite Eight. It’s why we committed to the schools that we’re at right now because both of the teams have that championship mentality that can make it far in the playoffs.”
And soaking it all in are parents Elizabeth and Mike Clevenger. Elizabeth Clevenger, a 1993 Loyola graduate, will travel to support Shay and the Greyhounds, while Mike, who played football and baseball at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, will cheer on Eloise and the Terps.
“It’s a lot of hard work playing any sport in college,” said Mike Clevenger, a 52-year-old real estate agent. “We’re thrilled for both of them.”
Both Shay and Eloise Clevenger have developed into pivotal, full-time starters for their respective teams. Shay ranks fourth in both ground balls (28) and caused turnovers (14) for the Greyhounds, while Eloise ranks second on the Terps in assists (27) and fourth in both goals (30) and points (57).
Lacrosse has long been the tie that linked the sisters. They remembered games in the backyard of their family’s home in Woodstock in Howard County that honed their growth — even if they sometimes got testy.
“She likes to play hard, but it’s made me better,” Eloise Clevenger said. “She’s a phenomenal defender. So she’s definitely helped me develop into the player that I am today.”
Said Shay: “As we have gotten older, I think we have come to appreciate how competitive we were with each other when we were younger and in high school. When we were younger, we would go really hard when we went up against each other. As we have both been in college, it’s definitely cooled down a bit. It’s more us over Christmas break helping each other improve our individual games.”
The Clevenger sisters’ contributions to their teams’ success have provided a brief interlude from the severity of their mother’s health. Since 2019, Elizabeth, 51, has battled breast cancer, which Shay characterized as serious.
“She’s very strong, and she’s got a lot of support and love,” Eloise Clevenger said, adding that brother Mac and sister Maisy — who has committed to join Eloise at Maryland — play varsity lacrosse at Marriotts Ridge. “She’s got a lot of lacrosse to go to, and it definitely does distract her. So I think she’s very excited for the both of us.”
While acknowledging the difficulty of watching Elizabeth deal with chemotherapy and medication, Mike Clevenger noted that their family is experiencing what many others afflicted by cancer are enduring. He agreed with his daughters that their lacrosse games have been must-see moments for his wife.
“I think it’s a good shot of adrenaline for her knowing that it’s game day,” he said. “It takes her mind off of it and lets her focus on something other than her health. So they’re all wonderful distractions.”
Shay Clevenger spent her freshman year at Louisville but elected to transfer after her mother became ill. She is grateful for the Greyhounds giving her a chance to play just 35 minutes from home.
“I know that some days, she doesn’t feel her best,” she said. “So it’s really awesome that there are some days when she does tough it out to watch us play, and I really appreciate that. I’m very lucky that I have a mom who is willing to come to games when she doesn’t feel great. I’m also very lucky that Loyola wanted me and that I was able to come home and play for her and here where it’s more convenient.”
If Maryland and Loyola are victorious, the teams would meet in a national semifinal on May 27 at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field in Baltimore for the right to advance to the title game. That possibility is one that the Clevenger sisters are nervously realizing.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that it has crossed my mind,” Shay admitted. “But Boston College on Thursday is my main priority. Whatever happens there, we might meet up, which is super cool. But I think we’re both really just focused on our next games and not thinking ahead to that point because there’s obviously another game to play against two very good opponents, and we have to win that first.”
A potential Greyhounds-Terps tilt would “maybe a little bit awkward for the family, but our No. 1 priority is that Thursday game,” Eloise said. “If we were to meet, it would definitely be funny and competitive.”
So how would Elizabeth and Mike Clevenger approach a Maryland-Loyola game in the Final Four? Mike joked he might have to attend without wearing any red or green. “I’m going to keep it neutral,” he quipped.
But he also acknowledged that having both daughters play for the opportunity to vie for the NCAA crown would be “the icing on the cake.”
“To even have the thought that they both could potentially play in the Final Four is wonderful,” he said. “But they still have work to do on Thursday. So let’s see what happens.”
NCAA Tournament quarterfinals
NO. 7 FLORIDA@NO. 2 MARYLAND
NO. 6 LOYOLA MARYLAND@NO. 3 BOSTON COLLEGE
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.