Loyola University coach was mom first, then Baltimore lacrosse icon

By Nancy Menefee Jackson
Special to the Review
Shannon Aikens was 9 years old when her mother died of brain cancer.
She didn’t realize then that Diane Geppi Aikens had been a lacrosse icon at Loyola University Maryland, even though Shannon’s baby shower was held there and she grew up on campus.
Geppi Aikens had been an All-American goalie for the Greyhounds, but left a bigger mark as their coach, putting Loyola on the women’s lacrosse map with a 197-71 record and 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including seven final fours.
As a child, Shannon was somewhat puzzled by the attention her mother received. In what would be her final season, Geppi Aikens, then 40, led her top-ranked team to the NCAA semifinals from a motorized wheelchair while battling terminal cancer.
“People said ‘she’s brave, she’s an inspiration,’ she’s on the news – she was my mom,” said Shannon, who remembers the mother who put on music in the morning and danced with her four children, made it a priority to get to their activites and “always made sure we felt loved beyond compare.”
As a senior lacrosse player at Loyola, however, Shannon understands full well her mother’s achievements. That’s why she was surprised and deeply moved when, after her mother was inducted into the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame last autumn, Greyhound coach Jen Adams held up jersey No. 20, her mother’s number, and said that Loyola would be honored if Shannon would wear it for her senior season.

Diane Geppi Aikens coached Loyola University’s women’s lacrosse team for many years, compiling a 197-71 record. (Courtesy Loyola University Maryland)

“Having the opportunity to wear the jersey is a comfort to me,” Shannon said, “a way I can kind of have her here on the field with me.”

The number will be retired at the final home game against Army West Point at the Ridley Athletic Complex April 30, also Senior Day.
While Shannon’s collegiate career has been marred by injury, she made the most of her first appearance of the season April 20, scoring a goal in a 13-7 win at Bucknell that clinched a share of the Patriot League regular-season title for the Greyhounds.
Shannon underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in February 2014, followed by a lengthy rehab. She had hip surgery again in May 2015, and in March required a cortisone shot to combat inflammation.
An effervescent young woman with a ready smile, Shannon, a speech pathology major, wants to work with children.
She attended St. Anthony of Padua School in Gardenville until sixth grade. After it closed, she moved to St. Michael the Archangel School in Overlea, then Mercy High School, where she made varsity lacrosse as a freshman, played basketball for four seasons and ran cross country for two.
While Loyola was a good fit both academically and athletically, joining a program her mother defined and practicing on a field named for her did give Shannon pause.
“I knew it would be tough coming into a place where she left such colossal footprints,” she said.
Mother’s Day is difficult, as she said, “I will tear up – it’s a hard day.”
At age 9, she didn’t appreciate the role of faith in coping with her mother’s death.
“I was really young – a lot of my understanding didn’t come until I was 13,” she said. “Just moving forward, I found comfort in the belief. One of the biggest things I believe in is people.”
One of her favorite courses at Loyola covered Jesuit spirituality, which emphasized finding something to be grateful about every day.
“That’s how I operate,” she said. “I find gratitude is very important. I learned a lot of that from (my mom). I love being positive and encouraging on and off the field. The selflessness that she exhibited is how I model myself.”

Also see:

Coffee & Doughnuts with Pat Healey of the Baltimore Blast

Harbaugh discusses faith in adversity at sold-out Catholic Men’s Conference

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