Loyola Club's Kelly O'Krepkie Named WCLA D-II Preseason Player of the Year


Loyola University Maryland is the most successful program in the WCLA’s 10-year era of Division II championships. The Greyhounds have recorded 20 all-time wins in WCLA tournament play, more than any other team, and have made four appearances in the championship game.

Loyola was the national runner-up in the inaugural Division II championship tournament in 2010, and again in 2017. Over the past two years, the Hounds have been dominant in capturing back-to-back titles, and they are again among the favorites in 2020.

It’s probably no coincidence that attacker Kelly O’Krepkie’s career overlaps with Loyola’s recent supremacy, making the senior All-American a solid choice as the US Lacrosse WCLA Division II Preseason Player of the Year.

“She’s like a coach on the field,” said Loyola team captain Jenna Siegelbaum, who joined O’Krepkie on the 2019 All-American team. “She’s always thinking about the smartest play that we can make.”

O’Krepkie serves as the team’s quarterback much of the time, directing the offense and initiating the play. Her decision-making has helped fuel an explosive offense that has put up record-setting numbers at the WCLA championship tournament in each of the past two years.

In 2018, the Greyhounds scored 68 goals in four tournament games, the second highest total ever, and capped their championship run with a lopsided 14-3 win in the final over defending champion Denver. O’Krepkie masterfully directed the offense that day, finishing with four goals and four assists and being selected as the tournament’s most outstanding attacker. Loyola’s 11-goal margin of victory was the largest ever in the D-II championship game.

“She’s always looking to spread the ball around,” Siegelbaum said. “She’s got a great mindset.”

Last year, Loyola avenged its only loss of the year, against Navy, by rebounding with wins over the Mids in both the MAWLL league final and again in the national championship game. A season-ending 10-game winning streak carried the Greyhounds to their second straight WCLA title.

Not surprisingly, O’Krepkie was one of the catalysts again in last year’s title run. First, she posted another eight-point game with four goals and four assists in the semifinal win over Utah State. She followed the next day with one goal and three more assists in the 13-6 win over Navy Club in the final.

“Goals are nice, but I love getting assists because it helps build the confidence of the other players,” O’Krepkie said.

Surprisingly, the Port Washington, N.Y. native didn’t abound in confidence when she first arrived at Loyola in the fall of 2016. She was one of 30 girls who tried out for just five available slots on the Greyhounds competitive club team and was nervous about her chances of making the cut.

“I was so excited to make the team as a freshman,” she said.

Being part of the squad quickly turned her initial apprehensiveness into a strong sense of comfort and belonging.

“I felt at home right away because there’s such a family culture on our team,” O’Krepkie said. “We’re all very close, and we love to hang out together.”

Now, as a senior, O’Krepkie and the other team leaders like Siegelbaum accept the challenge of cultivating that closeness with the newcomers to the program. Loyola functions as one of the few student-coached teams in the country, with the players taking on all responsibilities for the club without assistance from a coach.

“We try to pass it along by showing the underclassmen all the ropes,” O’Krepkie said.

That nurturing process may be critical to positioning Loyola for another championship run this spring. Last fall, seven of the eight members from a strong junior class were studying abroad, meaning that the team bonding usually done during fall practices was incomplete. That absence, however, hasn’t altered the team’s mindset heading into the 2020 season.

“Our expectation is to win again,” said O’Krepkie, who looks forward to returning to the championship venue in Round Rock, Texas.

It’s the same facility where she registered one of her other career highlights, an 11-point effort against St. Benedict in 2018 that ranks as the second highest individual scoring game in tournament history. With 28 wins over the past two seasons, capped by the back-to-back national titles, it’s likely that the Greyhounds will have a chance to meet their lofty expectations. And it’ll be hard to bet against Loyola should they return to the national tournament.

After all, that’s when O’Krepkie shines brightest.

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