May 7, 2011

Loyola Turnaround Complete with Big East Title

by Clare Lochary |

Grace Gavin's three goals Saturday in the Big East championship game made her Loyola's all-time goals leader, striking down a record that had stood since 1983.

WASHINGTON D.C. -- When Notre Dame burned them for two fast-break goals in the first 21 seconds of the game, things looked grim. But the Loyola Greyhounds reminded themselves that this year, they know how to win.

So they battled back in a closely fought game that featured six ties and three lead changes and ultimately won, 12-10, to claim their first Big East women's lacrosse championship. Senior attackers Grace Gavin and Mary Heneberry led the way with three goals each.

Just four years removed from a 2-14 season, Loyola has a 16-2 record, a Big East trophy and an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. After the game's final whistle, Gavin did a few muscle-man poses for the cheering fans at Multi Sport Field at Georgetown University. Head coach Jen Adams got the traditional Gatorade bath from her players on the sideline.

Consider the Greyhounds' comeback complete.

"I've been waiting for the Big East Championship for four years. I feel relief, excitement. I can't even describe it," said Gavin, whose hat trick made her Loyola's all-time goals leader, striking down a program record that had stood since 1983. "Last year it was hard for us to finish games. I don't know if we were tired, or if we just didn't know how to win. This year, everyone on this team knows how to win. We know how to protect a lead."

Loyola midfielder Abby Rehfuss added two goals and largely shut down Fighting Irish star midfielder Shaylyn Blaney (2g, 1a). Both of Blaney's goals came on free position shots, and she was 2-for-10 in overall shooting.

"[Blaney] is one of the truest midfielders in the game of women's lacrosse today. We wanted Abby to get in her hands and force her to take some bad shots, and to keep her off the 8-meter," Adams said.

The Greyhounds had a jittery and error-ridden second half, with six broken clears and 13 turnovers, but good shooting and putting the breaks on the Fighting Irish's dangerous transition game kept them competitive.

Seven of Notre Dame's 10 goals came off either fast breaks or free positions. In a settled offense, the Irish had few answers for the Greyhounds' grinding defense, or for junior goalie and tournament MVP Kerry Stoothoff (10 saves).

"At halftime, we were down 7-6, but we were only down by one. There were only 30 minutes left to get that trophy. It's been such a great season, and there's just no other way we could have ended it," said Stoothoff, who also caused three turnovers.

For the 11 seniors on the team, the victory had special significance. They entered the program just after the dismal 2007 season and went 6-9 under former head coach Kerri O'Day as freshmen in 2008. After O'Day stepped down from her position and Adams was hired, the Greyhounds have been on a steady upward trajectory. Having been there for the program's low points, the seniors took particular satisfaction in helping it reach a new peak Saturday.

"I was tired of having my season end too early," Heneberry said. "It feels amazing to win this."

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