We've entered the Top 20 of the #retriever50for50 countdown and the emotion of Moment No. 20 may have been more relief than exhilaration.
The UMBC women's lacrosse program had dominated the Northeast Conference since the Retriever program joined the league in 1997-98. UMBC won the first three league regular season and tournament titles, taking 21 games without a setback.
But, when the fledgling women's lacrosse conference first received its NCAA Championships automatic bid in 2001, UMBC stumbled, falling to Monmouth in the regular season and then dropping the title match on the Hawks' home field.
Head Coach Monica Yeakel designed a rigorous non-conference schedule in 2002, as UMBC dropped four of its first five contests versus the likes of Boston University and Virginia. That seemed to toughen up the Retrievers, as they captured one-goal decisions over Cal and Towson in non-conference play and proceeded to sweep all seven NEC games.
In the NEC Tournament at UMBC Stadium, the Retrievers easily dispatched of Sacred Heart, 16-4. But, again, standing in the Retrievers' path to the NCAA Tournament was the defending champion Monmouth Hawks.
Led by Tournament MVP Jen Dragoni, UMBC overwhelmed MU, 11-2, in the first 30 minutes, leaving little doubt about the outcome. Jen Dragoni, just a sophomore, and senior Jamie Gerhart each scored four goals and senior Loree Miller added three as the Retrievers won their school-record 11th straight game in a 15-5 victory.
Despite a setback in the NCAA Tournament at third-seeded UNC, the Retrievers (12-5) thoroughly enjoyed their first NCAA Tournament experience.
Gerhart led the offense with 40 goals and 60 total points. Dragoni, who would be inducted into the UMBC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012, added 36 goals and 53 points, while Canadian Stephanie Allen led the nation in draw controls.
Many of those same players experienced another NCAA Tournament as UMBC repeated in 2003. Team co-captains Lauren Traber and Courtney Stringer stated it best at the outset of the 2003 season, when they said, "Our overall experience at UMBC has been memorable. These are years we won't forget. As we say on our team…no regrets!"