Watch parties on Loyola’s campuses exploded, fans at home cheered and thousands of Loyolans at the Elite Eight in Atlanta couldn’t believe their eyes as the Loyola men’s basketball team defeated Kansas State University to earn a spot in the Final Four.
Hundreds of Loyola devotees trekked through the night to watch their team emerge victorious in person. They packed into cars, booked last-minute flights and scrambled to find tickets in the 24 hours before the Ramblers squared off against the Wildcats more than 700 miles from Chicago.
“I’m so excited,” said Kelsey Helstrom, a senior marketing and entrepreneurship major at Loyola. “We’re not used to being a sports school — I can’t believe we’re here.”
Helstrom and her friends left Chicago in a packed car at 7 p.m. Friday, arriving in Atlanta 13 hours later.
“I keep telling everyone we’re not used to being a basketball school,” said senior advertising and public relations major Megah Rosan, who traveled with Helstrom overnight. “I love seeing everyone’s school spirit, everyone cheering at [Bar 63] and Bulldog’s [Ale House] — it’s so fun.”
Seniors Bobby Rice and Patrick Nosek have been following Loyola basketball since their first year at Loyola. They got to Atlanta at 2 a.m. Saturday after a long drive with seven people — at times taking on as many as nine before they found another ride — in their car. They watched the Ramblers play at Arch Madness and at the team’s first March Madness games in Dallas, and felt they had to come to this game, too.
“It’s amazing to be here,” said Rice, a business systems administration student. “Last year we lost so many games … This team is so good, so gritty — we battle it out.”
Sitting near the very top of Philips Arena where the game was played, Rice and Nosek revelled in the atmosphere as the Ramblers pulled ahead.
“Seeing the excitement of the students, the alumni, the fans — these Loyola fans are rowdier than the K-State people,” Nosek said.
Like Rice, Nosek and so many other Loyola fans, junior Ahnika Kroll and her friends only decided to make the trip after Loyola beat Nevada Thursday to advance to Saturday’s game.
“We were all watching the game together in Damen and we all just looked at each other and said, ‘So are we going?’” Kroll said. “Then we were in Damen making plans to come to Atlanta.”
Although they were exhausted at the game, Kroll’s friend Kaylie Plauche said she’s glad they made the trip.
“It was a long trip but it was so worth it,” Plauche said.
Loyola business administration professor Steven Sachnoff said he wanted to come to Loyola’s Sweet 16 game Thursday but couldn’t miss the three classes he had Friday. Unable to get a flight to Atlanta, he and his son flew into Nashville and drove four hours to Atlanta.
“This is the best team I’ve seen in my 10 years at Loyola,” Sachnoff said. “I think it’s great for the school, our enrollment is going to go up and I’m really excited about it. My son will start there in August, and he’ll be able to see this team continue.”
Sachnoff said senior guard Ben Richardson was in a class he taught at Loyola and he expects the team to continue its success after this season.
“It’s a great team, a great coach and this won’t be our first or last hurrah,” Sachnoff said.
After the team’s historic victory, junior Vivien Schultz, a junior music major on the Loyola women’s soccer team, was overcome with emotion.
“I am so overwhelmed,” Schultz said. “It’s so amazing, I can’t believe we’re here right now. It was extraordinary. I can’t believe we won his game by more points than any other game this tournament and we’re going to the final four.”
Running on just three hours of sleep after a journey that began at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Schultz said her last-second decision to come was one of the best choices she’s made.
“It was 100 percent worth it,” Schultz said. “I can’t explain how awesome I feel right now.”