Decker Fills Void as Loyola's Saving Grace
With so much focus on Grace Gavin, Loyola needed Meg Decker to step up as she did with five goals in the sixth-seeded Greyhounds' 14-7 win over Massachusetts in an NCAA tournament first-round game Saturday. Loyola visits third-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals.
© TD Paulius
BALTIMORE, Md. -- Senior Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Grace Gavin has been Loyola's go-to player on offense all season. So when Massachusetts was quick to double-team her and eliminate the Greyhounds' most reliable source of points in Saturday's first-round NCAA women's lacrosse tournament game, Loyola had to find someone else.
"That's the sign of a championship team – someone will step up and fill the void," said head coach Jen Adams.
It was senior attacker Meg Decker, who came off the bench to score five goals to lead the No. 6-seeded Greyhounds to a 14-7 victory over UMass. It was Loyola's first NCAA tournament game since 2004 and its first victory since 2003. The Greyhounds never trailed, thanks to Decker's offensive explosion and solid team defense that held Jackie Lyons, UMass's all-time points leader, to a single goal, and limited freshman star Katie Ferris to one goal and one assist. Senior midfielder Haley Smith led the Minutemen with two goals.
"We knew [Lyons and Ferris] were going to go hard, so we needed to slide quick and we knew [goalie] Kerry [Stoothoff] was going to step up behind us," said senior defender Kellye Gallagher, who had five ground balls, five caused turnovers and no fouls in the win. Stoothoff had seven saves.
Loyola opened the game with a 5-1 run in the first 17:37 of the game, with goals from five different players. The first came from freshman attacker Marlee Paton, who dodged through a double team and sent a high shot past UMass keeper Katie Florence (nine saves). It was Paton's only goal of the day, but she also tallied three assists. Gavin added three assists as well, although being held goalless ended her run of 59 games with at least one goal, the longest active streak in the nation.
"Grace is going to be hard on herself after this game, but she did a lot of behind-the-scenes work," said Adams. "She moved the ball and found other people open."
Gavin's current 66-game point streak is still the longest active in the nation.
Doubling Gavin and taking away her adjacent passes was UMass' strategy going into the matchup, and while it worked vis-à-vis Gavin, the Minutewomen didn't have the speed to shut down Decker and the rest of the midfield, including Mary Henneberry (3g) and Abby Rehfuss (2g).
"We push hard. All the mids work hard to get down there, and get in front of it," said Decker, whose five goals were her Loyola career high. (She scored six goals once during her freshman season at Navy.)
The game was imperfect. Loyola committed 20 turnovers, many unforced, and went 13-of-21 on clears. But the NCAA tournament win, the first for all the players and Adams' first as a head coach, was the latest in a string of successes for the Greyhounds, who are currently 17-2, tying a program record for wins in a season.
"It just feels great. You think it's never going to happen, and then it happens," said Gallagher, in a voice choked with emotion. "Hopefully it won't stop."
Post-game, it was unclear who the Greyhounds would play in the second round of the tournament, since the Virgina-North Carolina game had been delayed by weather. Adams said her team was ready to either host the Cavaliers or travel to face the Tar Heels.
"It doesn't matter who. It doesn't matter where," said Adams. "We'll prepare for them, and try to keep our season alive."
North Carolina defeated Virginia, 15-7, in its first round game, and will host Loyola in the second round. The Tar Heels and the Greyhounds have not met since February 15, 2008, when North Carolina defeated Loyola, 13-9. The 2008 game was the season opener for both teams, and thus the first game in the careers of the current senior class for both schools.