Loyola’s women’s basketball team (3-13, 1-4) had a 1-8 record before winter break, getting a nail biting 57-55 victory over the University of Illinois at Chicago Dec. 22. The break has been a turning point for the team, according to head coach Kate Achter.
Achter said she was impressed with the way the team has stepped up on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball since the fall semester ended. She said it’s evident the team wants to get better as practice improved over break.
“Obviously, we came away with a couple victories over break, which was great,” Achter said. “I think our players have been in the gym a ton. In fact, the past two days when I’ve walked in about 8 in the morning, I have kids walking out of the gym because they’ve done extra work.”
Before break, Achter told The PHOENIX the practice level wasn’t where she wanted it. She said that’s changed since the team entered into the break because the coaches and the girls decided they wanted to be better than what they were.
“We’ve demanded that it get better and we don’t let the girls just skate by with mediocre effort,” Achter said. “The other part is that the girls don’t want to accept mediocre effort from themselves anymore. They know what’s expected of them now and they hold themselves to a high standard.”
Overall, the defense is improving. Loyola has averaged 25.2 defensive rebounds per game this season so far. That’s an improvement from last season when the Ramblers averaged 22.6. The team has allowed its opponents to shoot a 42.4 percent field goal percentage, an improvement on last season’s 44.3 percent. However, the team is still shooting just 35.9 percent.
First-year forward Abby O’Connor — who was named Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Newcomer of the Week Jan. 8 — said she thought that, despite letting up 70 points to the University of Northern Iowa, the defense has been better.
“We’ve been able to stop teams which has given us confidence on offense to execute and score,” O’Connor said.
Achter agreed with O’Connor and attributed the offensive success to the defense. She said the team has been able to take better shots because of the improvement on the other end of the floor.
“We are defending better and when you can hold teams under 65 points, you are giving yourself a chance,” Achter said. “Our field goal percentage has gone up. We are more confident in the shots we are taking and we are taking better shots.”
Although the team has shown some improvement, senior guard Katie Salmon said work needs to be done.
“[We need to] be consistent for 40 minutes,” Salmon said. “I think there are times where we have been really close but then we will have one quarter that sets us back for the rest of the game. So I think just trying to find that consistency that we’ve had but just for the full 40 minutes.”
Achter said her team needs to work on its turnovers. She compared the team’s lack of consistency with turnovers to a rollercoaster.
“We’ll either be really great at it or we do a really good job in just the last three minutes of taking care of the basketball,” Achter said. “We need to value the basketball.”
Still, O’Connor said the team’s improvement can be seen through the confidence gained in its 62-59 win over Illinois State University Jan. 7.
“I think that the game definitely gave us confidence,” O’Connor said. “We came out to a strong start which really helped. I think that we were able to execute some of our new sets that we put in on offense to get the different looks. Then defensively we were able to stop them the way we wanted.”
Achter said there are many MVC teams that have set themselves apart with their records, but she still feels like Loyola could do well.
“I do feel like we can compete better in the MVC this year,” Achter said. “I’ve liked what I’ve seen when our kids have competed against some of those teams. The future’s looking up. It’s just a matter of how our kids handle that.”
Salmon said she was excited for this season because she felt the team could put up a fight against some of the teams.
“I think being able to compete in games and not being taken out of games by halftime has been really encouraging for us,” Salmon said. “If we know that we can compete then that’s just a huge confidence boost and that keeps us engaged.”
Despite the other teams in the MVC having good seasons, Achter wants the team’s goals to stay the same from the beginning of the season. These goals are to finish top five in the MVC in free throws attempted, fewest turnovers and defensive rebounding. Right now the team is last in free throws attempted, tied for first in most turnovers per game and fourth in defensive rebounds per game.
“Just because we had one good weekend where we competed well with two teams, doesn’t mean we lose sight of the three things we want to be good at in the MVC,” Achter said.
Achter said this year has been a turning point for the program because there are changes happening for the better.
“The cohesiveness of our group is changing,” Achter said. “You may not be able to see that from the outside. We are in more basketball games late because we have great chemistry and we have players that are really starting to trust each other. We just maybe lack the experience to finish them.”
Salmon agreed with Achter and said she noticed the new atmosphere among the team the most.
“This is my fourth year here now and there is so much more positivity,” Salmon said. “I think that we are progressing the right way. We have to build, obviously, we had a new team last year and a lot of new people this year so I think seeing our growth has been really cool and also seeing things build off of a good positive culture.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to play against Southern Illinois University in Carbondale Jan. 19 before heading to Springfield, Missouri to take on Missouri State University Jan. 21.