This season, the Loyola women’s basketball team (17-4, 8-2) recruited six new players, including five first-years. First-year guard Ellie Rice is one of the new players and she’s been an asset to the team, averaging 7.0 ppg in the season, while averaging 9.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg over her last four games.
Rice said she started playing organized basketball in third grade and attributes her love of the sport to her brothers.
“My oldest brother played basketball for a while, so my mom would always take me to his tournaments,” Rice said. “I have four older brothers, so our family has always been pretty competitive. So we would go outside and play basketball on our outdoor hoop a lot.”
Rice’s collegiate career started when head coach Kate Achter realized she would need more players to replace the graduating seniors. Achter said she saw Rice’s potential when she was averaging 20.7 ppg her senior year of high school at Regents School of Austin in Austin, Texas.
“We needed a lot of things when I took over this program,” Achter said. “[Rice] ticked a lot of boxes for us. She’s a very, very bright kid. Academically, she’s just off the charts. She can score the basketball and she’s a great teammate and those are all things we needed to improve. Ellie was a no brainer for us.”
Rice said she’s happy to be at Loyola and she’s excited to see how far she’ll go. She said she’s already met many of her goals, such as a strong rebound presence and playing aggressively, and she’s eager to keep pushing past boundaries.
“We have a lot of young players that are developing and how much we’ve grown since the summer till now has really been great,” Rice said. “As we continue to grow we will continue to build our chemistry. I feel like by the end of our four years we could be a contender for the [Missouri Valley Conference] championship.”
Rice is the second Texas recruit in program history, according to the athletics department. Grace Goodhart was a McDonald’s All-American from Texas and was on the 2015 MVC All-Freshman team before transferring to the University of North Texas.
Rice said she chose Loyola because she liked the chemistry between the coaches and players on the team.
“The coaches are a really tight-knit group, so I really liked the way they bring a lot of energy when they practice,” Rice said. “When I came on my visit here, I really liked all the girls and how they get along really well. They all wanted to be around me and wanted to hang out with me. We can make each other laugh in the locker room and we are always hanging out, which is fun.”
Rice said she was nervous about the transition from high school to college, but she’s grateful for her teammates and the fact that she’s able to rely on them.
“They really helped [with the transition], especially the upperclassmen,” Rice said. “[When] I first got here in the summer, they showed me around, showed me where everything was. Anytime I have questions I know I can go to them and I know that they’re going to help me their best so I can succeed.”
While she was excited to join the team, Rice said she was apprehensive about how the other players would react to her, but those worries were eased and she described the team as being like sisters.
“I was a little nervous coming that I’d be that new freshman, but they were all super welcoming and they’ve become some of my best friends,” Rice said.
Not only have her teammates helped with her transition, but Rice said they make playing at this level more relaxing. In high school, Rice didn’t have a tough player down low to give the ball to. In college, having a player who can post up by the basket takes pressure off Rice and the other guards.
“They make it really easy for me to be comfortable playing on the floor, especially our posts,” Rice said. “I didn’t play with a true post player in high school, so coming here and being able to throw it in and having them be able to score is really nice. It takes the pressure off of our guards, which is nice. Coming here and having everyone be able to contribute what they’re good at has been nice.”
First-year forward Kat Nolan said she loves playing with Rice because she brings a light-heartedness to the team without losing focus from the game.
“I think she brings a lot of energy and her ability to shoot and drive the basket is really important to us,” Nolan said. “She’s a selfless player who looks to do her best for the team.”
Achter said Rice has been a great addition and her energy has been enjoyable to watch. She also said Rice is influential both on and off the court.
“I think the way [Rice] interacts with her teammates is just fantastic,” Achter said. “Her ability on the floor impacts us in every game and you can see it. It’s hard to quantify that. “You could do it statistically speaking, but [Rice] does so much more for us than that. She keeps the mood light and is a little bit of a goofball.”
Rice and the Ramblers are scheduled to play Valparaiso University Feb. 11 at Gentile Arena.