Women's Basketball

Ramblers Look to Bounce Back

//Steve Woltmann

With the change in weather comes the growing excitement and anticipation of new men’s and women’s basketball seasons at Loyola. And what better way to celebrate these upcoming campaigns than with Rambler Madness? The lively event, which used to be called Midnight Madness, is held annually prior to each men’s and women’s season. It’s the perfect celebration — and perhaps tease — to hold over basketball fans who anxiously anticipate our calendar pages flipping to November.

Ramblers in attendance at the Oct. 16 event were marched into Gentile Arena by men’s basketball team chaplain Sister Jean. Fans met their two Division I basketball teams and listened to both men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser and women’s basketball head coach Sheryl Swoopes discuss the upcoming season and introduce their 2015 rosters.

Fans were also treated to a shooting competition along with a performance from Loyola’s spirit team. The event was topped off with a high-flying slam-dunk contest and an opportunity to win an all-expenses paid Loyola education with the Shot For Tuition. No bank accounts were saved.

Loyola’s women’s basketball team featured redshirt junior and St. Louis native Taylor Manuel, who was named to the First Team All-Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) and honored with the league’s Newcomer of the Year title last season. Manuel, the squad’s leading scorer last season, was joined by senior teammate Becca Smith of South Elgin, Illinois, who proved to be a workhorse and floor general during the 2014-15 season. Smith led the team with 87 assists and 23 buckets from behind the three-point arc.

Swoopes officially introduced five first-year players on the women’s team, creating a buzz of excitement and giving hope for the future of the women’s basketball program. First-year player Whisper Fisher was named to the First Team All-County and All-Division as a senior member of her high school team in Owings Mills, Maryland. A 6-foot-2-inch forward, Fisher has shown her remarkable ability to score, crash the boards and be an imposing force on the defensive side of the ball. Her dominating senior campaign saw her averaging  three blocks per game, to go along with an average of 18.6 points and 10 rebounds each time she stepped onto the floor.

It’s no secret that Swoopes, who ignited the crowd at her third Rambler Madness, relies on the leadership of veterans like Manuel and Smith, matched with the promising athletic ability of Fisher and her four first-year players, to help guide this team to success. Swoopes and her 2014-15 ensemble failed to meet expectations last year, losing 25 of their 31 scheduled games and suffering tough-to-watch losses to MVC opponents such as Drake University and Southern Indiana University.

In a recent press release, Swoopes, who was recently awarded the Boost Mobile Pioneer Award by the WNBA for a monumental basketball career, acknowledged the struggles of the previous season but maintained a positive attitude toward the upcoming one.

“I am excited to get back to work and [I] look forward to the great competition that the Valley always provides,” said Swoopes. “We are really looking forward to conference play and working hard to have a much better year.”

While Swoopes’ comments seemed clichéd and her Rambler Madness introduction rehearsed, there is optimism among players for a fresh start and a 2015 season filled with young talent and an opportunity to improve. The team begins season play at home on Nov. 1 in an exhibition against the University of Wisconsin – Parkside. Despite the lack of free pizza and tuition at Rambler Madness had, the season-opener is eagerly awaited.

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