- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament’s sentimental favorites made a premature exit last night.

Defending champion Princeton dominated the draw controls and capitalized on its free position shots as it ousted top-seeded Loyola 5-3 in the national semifinals at the Carrier Dome.

The Tigers (15-4) will face the winner of last night’s Maryland-Virginia semifinal, which did not end in time for this edition, in the championship tomorrow afternoon at 1. Princeton lost 13-8 at Virginia earlier this season, but defeated Maryland 13-6 in College Park late last month.

Greyhounds coach Diane Geppi-Aikens’ battle with an inoperable brain tumor had garnered national publicity and gave Loyola attention as it attempted to win its first national title. Instead, the Greyhounds (17-2) lost in the semifinals for the third time in four years.

“I can’t be disappointed after going undefeated as long as we did,” said Geppi-Aikens, whose team won its first 14 games. “I’m very proud of our team.”

The eight goals matched the second-lowest combined goal output in the tournament’s 22-year history. The seven goals scored in Maryland’s 4-3 overtime defeat of New Hampshire in the 1991 semifinals is the record.

“It was an interesting competition, but I don’t know how great it was,” Princeton coach Chris Sailer said. “It was ugly at times.”

Princeton won eight of the game’s 10 draw controls, keeping possession from Loyola. The Greyhounds were never able to exploit the speed in their midfield, instead being forced to patiently set up their few opportunities.

“We wanted to run because we felt it was to our advantage,” Geppi-Aikens said. “When they got possession of the ball, it slowed our game down and it took us out of our game plan.”

The Tigers assumed a 4-3 lead with 12:34 left when Elizabeth Pillion scored her second goal of the game off a free position shot. It was the third free position goal of the game for Princeton.

Loyola, which managed just two shots in the second half, soon lost its cool. Midfielder Jen Albright was tagged with two yellow cards and was ejected with 7:13 remaining for arguing what should have been an offside call on Princeton. Two more Greyhounds were carded in the next two minutes, leaving Loyola without much of its heralded defense for a three-minute stretch late in the game.

It mattered little, as the Tigers were content to milk the clock. Princeton had several opportunities to attack the cage, but did not score an insurance goal until 82 seconds remained.

Princeton contained Suzanne Eyler and Rachel Shuck, the primary conduits of the Loyola offense. Eyler, who had 56 goals entering the semifinals, was held to two free position goals while Shuck (team-high 38 assists) didn’t record a point. The Tigers defense alternated pressuring the pair, preventing either from having breathing room at the same time.

The Tigers scored the first two goals of the game, setting a slow tempo from the opening draw. Loyola rallied to score three straight to assume the lead early in the second half, but Pillion’s free position goal with 24:45 left tied it at 3.

Though the Greyhounds’ title hopes came to an end, the team kept its perspective after the loss.

“Diane and our team, we are a true family,” Eyler said. “We win together, we lose together. If it has to end this way, so be it. I’m still proud of our players, proud of our coaches and proud to be a part of this program.”

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