Aug. 13, 2003
BALTIMORE - Loyola College women's lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens, who became a national inspiration in 2003 while coaching her top-ranked Greyhounds from a wheelchair despite suffering from the effects of a large, inoperable brain stem tumor, died early Sunday morning. Geppi-Aikens was 40.
Despite being forced to a wheelchair in February, and despite treatment which left her left side partially paralyzed, Geppi-Aikens coached every game but one in 2003, Loyola's best season ever. The Greyhounds won their first 14 games, finished with a team-record 17 victories (17-2 record), earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time and were ranked No. 1 in the Brine/IWLCA poll in eight of the season's final nine weeks. Loyola reached the NCAA semifinals for the seventh time in Geppi-Aikens' 15 years as head coach and for the third time in the past four seasons.
"As a student, as a coach, as an administrator--Diane's life is a testament to the ideals of the College that she so proudly represented for more than 20 years," said Loyola President Harold Ridley, S.J. "Her relative youth makes this a terrible tragedy, but I know she lives on in the countless players she mentored, and in all of us whom she inspired with her great spirit, compassion and courage. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Loyola Community remain with her family now."
The Baltimore native and 1984 Loyola graduate earned IWLCA National Coach of the Year honors for the third time. She had previously won the award in 1996 and 1997. She also won IWLCA South Regional Coach of the Year honors for the fourth time.
Geppi-Aikens' courageous battle against brain tumors, a battle that began with the first occurence of a then-benign tumor in 1995, proved to be an inspiration to thousands of people in the lacrosse community, the United States and throughout the world. The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) renamed its Lifetime Achievement Award in her honor. College Sports Television (CSTV) recently endowed a $5,000 scholarship in her name to be given each season to a senior women's lacrosse player who has displayed extraordinary leadership, character and perseverance. A website dedicated to Geppi-Aikens (www.caringbridge.org/md/aikens), administered by former Loyola player and current Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker, has received nearly 40,000 page hits since late January and features a guestbook that has been signed by thousands of people.
Many collegiate and high school programs also named awards in her honor, including Loyola, which inaugurated the Diane Geppi-Aikens Inspiration Awards as part of the college's annual athletic awards banquet. The College also announced the Diane Geppi-Aikens Service to Loyola Award, to be given to one male and one female member of each class as part of Loyola's Gravitas ceremony in the fall.
Geppi-Aikens also earned an award of her own-the NCAA Inspiration Award-at that organization's annual honors dinner Jan. 12. That award is given to individuals who have overcome life-altering situations and serve as role models to give hope and inspiration to others.
Geppi-Aikens and her Loyola team became the recipients of an outpouring of support from fellow members of the lacrosse community, including an unusual amount of support from their opponents. Opposing teams wore green shoelaces in honor of Loyola's coach during the game, and Geppi-Aikens often received flowers or other gifts from opposing teams before the game.
All the while, with Geppi-Aikens exhorting her team not to play for her but for each other, the Greyhounds were fashioning their best season. Loyola jumped to No. 1 in the polls after defeating defending national champion Princeton in overtime March 9 and remained there for all but one week the rest of the season. After falling to Virginia, 10-9, for their first loss of the season April 29, the Greyhounds rebounded four days later to defeat archrival Maryland, 9-8, and earn the No. 1 seed in the NCAA championship. Loyola then defeated UMBC and Yale in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament before falling to Princeton, 5-3, in an NCAA semifinal game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
Named Loyola's head women's lacrosse coach in 1989, Geppi-Aikens finished with an impressive career record of 197-71 (.735) in her 15 seasons as head coach. She led the Greyhounds to the NCAA tournament 10 times (1990, 1994, 1996-2003), and her teams finished in the top 10 nationally in the final Brine/IWLCA rankings in every season since 1992. Geppi-Aikens also served as Loyola's volleyball coach from 1984-1990, an assistant athletics director at Loyola from 1993-1998 and was a member of the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Committee from 1995-1999, including serving as chairperson of that committee from 1997-1999.
She earned induction into the USLacrosse Greater Baltimore Chapter Hall of Fame in 2001 and was inducted into the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991. At 28, she was the youngest person ever inducted into the College's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Geppi-Aikens was a four-year starter and two-time team captain in both lacrosse and volleyball at Loyola. She was an all-region and All-America goalie in lacrosse, recording the highest save percentage in Greyhound history (.749) during her junior season in 1983. An elementary education major, she capped an impressive academic and athletic career by being honored with the ECAC Medal of Merit in 1984.
In 1996, prior to the Greyhounds' appearance in the national semifinals, she was awarded the prestigious Loyola President's Medal at a special commencement ceremony.
A graduate of Parkville High School (1980), Geppi-Aikens earned varsity letters in volleyball, basketball and lacrosse. She was presented with Parkville's most prestigious student-athlete award in addition to receiving student-athlete honors from The Baltimore Sun. She was inducted into the Baltimore City Hall of Fame in 1980.
Geppi-Aikens is survived by her mother, Katherine, her father, John, grandmother Marie Meyers, sisters Patty and Carolyn, and her four children-Michael, Jessica, Melissa and Shannon.