In October 2016, the Loyola women’s basketball program was in a state of disarray. Ten letterwinners left the program and recently-hired head coach Kate Achter had to start fresh with her 10-player roster — the average Division I roster size is 15, according to the NCAA. The team went 2-20 and the rebuild was in full effect.
One year later, Loyola lost four players — juniors Kianna Mayers, Miya Williams and sophomore Kaitlyn Williams left the program but are still enrolled at Loyola, and first-year Kiana Coomber transferred to community college. All five starters are returning from last season, meaning Achter retains the core of the team, and the roster sits at 12 players.
Getting ready to start her second season at the helm, Achter said her goal when taking the job was to “turn the ship.” With one season under her belt, she said she has already seen many differences from the beginning of last season.
“Everything’s been different — investment’s been different, the chemistry’s been different, the pace [and] the effort. All those things have been different,” Achter said. “It’s a welcome difference. Our roster looks different because we’ve got six new kids, but, remarkably, they’ve been blending really well with our returners, and I think that’s a testament to the way our kids want to operate this year.”
With six recruits — five first-years and a graduate transfer — Achter said she feels the roster is in a good place despite being slightly below average of the team’s competition. The Phoenix spoke with Achter before Kaitlyn Williams left the program.
“We have 13  on our roster right now, which is a good place to operate from, and six of those are new kids, which has been challenging at times,” Achter said. “But it’s also been really refreshing because they bring a lot of energy, intensity and basketball IQ to the table. Those are some things we’ve needed as a group.”
The Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) released its preseason poll Oct. 24 and had the Ramblers picked to finish last out of the 10 teams in the league for the second consecutive season. While some teams don’t trust the ranking, senior forward Katie Salmon said it gives the team something to prove come conference play.
“It’s motivation, to be honest,” Salmon said. “We talked about it as a team, and it’s something that should hurt us. We know we’re better than that, and we know we’ve worked hard to be better than that.”
The Ramblers played an exhibition game Nov. 7 against Concordia University Chicago. The Ramblers defeated the Cougars 91-56. After the game, Achter said she sees the season opener as a way to gauge how her young roster will perform when the game counts toward the record.
“It’ll be a road test for us, so [it will] get us out of the confines of friendly Gentile … it’ll test us,” Achter said. “It’ll test our maturity … [the exhibition game] was a dress rehearsal where we got to put on our uniforms for the first time.”
Achter also said while she’d love for her team to win more than two games this season, she’s more focused on three specific goals: reducing the amount of turnovers, getting more rebounds and drawing more fouls. With those goals, Achter feels the team will gradually rise in the standings.
“We’re starting small with three small goals that our kids are really invested in and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Achter said. “Maybe in two years we can talk about if we’re ready for the top half of the league. But if I can get them to buy into three small goals to begin with, then we can set our sights a little higher.”
Loyola will tip off its season at Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne, Indiana Oct. 12.