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The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Loyola honors the life and legacy of Diane Geppi-Aikens

Diane Geppi-Aikens led the Hounds to 10 NCAA tournaments, seven Final Fours, and one Championship game in 15 seasons.

By Pat Terwedo

Sports Editor

Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time around Loyola University is probably familiar with the name Diane Geppi-

Aikens; in fact, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’theard that name. It is written across the top of the scoreboard on the very field she coached the Loyola Women’s lacrosse team for 15 years. Her memory has become a centerpiece in the athletic department here at Loyola.

Diane Geppi-Aikens is as much a part of this institution as the buildings that make it up. “Joe Boylan said this once to me: he said, ‘You know John, there could be 500 people in this circle and Diane’s talking to one of them and you could hear a pin drop,’” said her father, John “Pops” Geppi. The way she led her life is a testament to the ideals of the Jesuit education and her memory is cherished by the people she encountered.

Diane, the youngest of three, was born in nearby Parkville to John and Katherine Geppi, known throughout the Loyola community as Pops and Mops. She excelled in sports at a young age, and became a standout three-sport athlete at Parkville High School.

Despite a number of basketball scholarship offers she chose nearby Loyola College where she played volleyball and lacrosse. She earned All-America honors as the goalkeeper for the Greyhounds and later won two gold medals with Team USA on the international stage.

Upon graduating from Loyola she was immediately named the head coach of the volleyball team, making her the youngest division one head volleyball coach in the nation at the time. She led the volleyball team for six years before taking over the women’s lacrosse program, where she truly excelled. Diane was known for her upbeat personality. She had an open door policy, even for people who weren’t on the team. Pops said, “When you talked to her she talked to you like you were the only person around.”

Over the next 15 years, Diane took the lacrosse program at Loyola to new heights, from small and rather obscure beginnings to a perennial national powerhouse. Under her leadership the Greyhounds went to 10 NCAA Tournaments, seven Final Fours and one NCAA Championship game.

“In 1995 she was out on the field and she fell and Joe Artuso told her she should go to the hospital and get checked out, because there was no reason for her to fall,” said Pops. Initially she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After a surgery to remove the initial tumor, treatment failed to put her in permanent remission.

She had three successive surgeries in 1997, 1998 and 2001. In December of 2002, she learned that the tumor had returned and that this time it was inoperable. She was told she had only a few months to live. Diane Geppi-Aikens passed away on June 29, 2003, six months after learning her cancer was terminal.

“Not a lot of people know this but I had gotten her situated in her chair and she says ‘I love you’ to me, she says I love you dad. That was the last words that came out of her mouth. She went into a coma, then she died a couple days later,” Pops said.

When Diane learned of the severity of her condition she set two goals for herself: to lead the Greyhounds to Championship Weekend and to see her son Michael graduate from high school. Coaching from her wheelchair, Diane led the Hounds all the way to the 2003 Final Four, when the #1 Greyhounds lost to the eventual champion Princeton 5-3.

She died three months later, not long after seeing her son Michael graduate from high school. “She was such a good mom and such a good person and we miss her dearly,” Pops said.

Three months after Diane passed, Loyola held the first annual Diane Geppi-Aikens Memorial 5K Race. The race itself was the brainchild of Diane’s friend and avid runner Ruthie Lavelle, who wanted to find a way to help send Diane’s four children to college. The first event garnered an incredible turnout, with participants from all over the Baltimore area. Teams formed from neighboring universities including UMBC, Towson University and Goucher.

The 5K event winds through the neighborhood of Guilford around Loyola’s campus, starting and ending on Diane Geppi-Aikens field. “All the departments have a touch of this race. It’s just a wonderful thing that the sports department allows them to use their resources,” said Pops. The race takes place this Saturday, September 21 at 8:30 a.m.

“This is a fun and exciting event. There is going to be a lot of things going on, awards, giveaways, there’s going to be food; it’s not just about Diane, the race is a fun thing,” Pops said. Many different groups from within the University as well as the surrounding community field teams to participate in the Team Challenge. To participate in the Team Challenge each team must consist of at least 10 people, the top finishing team is eligible for a prize.

The race continues to receive support both in donations and participants from a long list high schools and colleges in the area. “Not only will Diane’s children be there but so will the surrounding colleges, high schools and academies,” said Pops. Nearly every athletic team at Loyola participates in some form or another, as runners or volunteers.

“To me as her mom I didn’t know how I would feel coming back here because it was so much a part of our life for so long, and I thought, ‘Am I going to feel uncomfortable? Is it going to bring up memories with her not being here?’ And the first time I walked across the field I felt, ‘This is more of a comfort zone,’” Mops said.

Originally proceeds from the race supported Diane’s children as they pursued their education, helping to pay for books and room and board. “Her main concern was that her children got an education,” Pops said.

After the first few years more than enough money had been raised to support her children and it was decided to establish a scholarship fund in her memory. The scholarship became the Diane Geppi-Aikens Scholarship, the first endowed scholarship for a female athlete, which is presented every year at the Tewaaraton Trophy presentation.

“It’s not about awards; it’s about family, it’s about people. As a matter of fact she inspires us to continue to do things,” Pops said.

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Loyola honors the life and legacy of Diane Geppi-Aikens