For most teams, only one conference win and two wins total through 16 games isn’t expected or tolerated. But first-year head coach Kate Achter isn’t all that disappointed in her team.
Achter said the Loyola women’s basketball team (2-14, 1-4) isn’t defined by the Ramblers’ disproportionate win-loss ratio, but rather by the effort the Ramblers are putting toward the team’s ability to compete. Loyola isn’t necessarily underperforming, because even two weeks before the season, the team lacked a solid foundation. With only three returning players — none of which were starters — Achter had to start from scratch using the 10 players on her team and her new coaching staff.
Loyola had the 17th strongest nonconference schedule in the nation and the second most difficult non-league schedule in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) behind Drake University (No. 11). That being said, it comes as little surprise that the team won only one of its 10 nonconference games and nationally ranked teams, such as No. 14 University of Miami and No. 21 DePaul University, pummeled the Ramblers by double digits.
Despite the 1-9 overall record heading into MVC play, the team remained hungry and eager for its next win, according to Achter.
In Loyola’s first two conference games against Southern Illinois University and the University of Evansville, the Ramblers struggled on both ends of the court.
None of Loyola’s players are averaging double digit points per game. Led by junior forward Katie Salmon, who averages 9.3 points per game, the team’s top six scorers average within three points of one another. Achter said she doesn’t emphasize individual players’ double digit scoring as a necessity because the spread-out stat sheet shows the team is moving and sharing the ball.
Despite a 67-36 loss to the Purple Aces, Achter noted that Loyola has remained competitive with its conference foes.
“If you look at our first four games in conference, there’s really only one team that’s thrown the hammer down on us — we’re competing,” said Achter. “We should be 3-1 in conference, but we let a couple things get away from us, and here we are. We’re competing better now because we believe in each other. I think it’s only going to get better from here.”
Loyola’s second win of the season and first win in the conference came on Jan. 6 against Illinois State University. Despite having their backs against the wall and trailing the 4-12 Redbirds by nine points at the half, the Ramblers were able to slide past Illinois State in the final minute of the game, winning 64-61.
First-year guard Kiana Coomber said Achter channeled the team’s experience from nonconference play to help Loyola with the comeback.
“At halftime … coach said, ‘At this point, the pressure isn’t on us. It’s on them to maintain that lead.’ So, she told us to just take it one play at a time, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Coomber. “When you have the lead, it’s harder to keep it. So, we got to be the aggressors in the second half, which changed the game at the end.”
In future games, Achter said she hopes to keep channeling the team’s resiliency that Loyola’s win over Illinois State demonstrated.
“We keep [the win] in the back of our minds, and we rely on it,” said Achter. “I was really pleased and proud of the way the kids handled it. They trusted each other, and they trusted all the things that we do, and they fought. And that was something I knew we could get to, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take with how difficult our schedule has been.”
The Ramblers are ranked in 10th place in the MVC. Coming off a 48-38 loss to Indiana State University and riding a two-game losing streak, Loyola is scheduled to face a tough pair of road games against the MVC’s top two teams. Loyola is next scheduled to travel to Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 20 to take on MVC-leader Drake University and then to the University of Northern Iowa to play the Panthers on Jan. 22.