The Loyola women’s basketball team (7-23, 5-13) had a rough year. Before the season, second-year head coach Kate Achter brought six players on board, meaning seven members of the twelve-player roster were first-years or sophomores. Although its numbers don’t seem like it, Achter said this team has definitely improved.
The team finished with seven wins, which was five more than the team finished with last year. The Ramblers averaged 53.4 ppg and had 10.8 apg during the season. The number of assists increased as the season went on due to the players’ confidence in one another, Achter said.
The team committed an average of 17 turnovers per game this season in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The Ramblers were ninth in the MVC in turnover margin, committing 4.43 more turnovers per game than their opponents.
Achter said she was proud of how the players improved in the areas of chemistry, ball handling and consistency throughout an entire game, which are all areas she said the players had been initially focusing on.
“We’ve really taken care of the basketball. Shared it better. Our pace is better,” Achter said. “Certainly some of that has come from playing teams you are familiar with the second time around, but I just really thought chemistry-wise that our group clicked.”
Over the summer, the team added five first-years to the roster with only two seniors on it. Due to the youthfulness of the team at the start of the season, Achter said the players didn’t fully comprehend what she was asking, but that changed over time.
“They’ve had a really good grasp on what I was asking them to do and they found a way,” Achter said. “Sometimes that takes a while when you are relying on underclassmen. But, it was a lot of fun to coach them the last ten games of the season.”
Senior forward Katie Salmon said she also noticed improvements. She said, without having good chemistry, the team wouldn’t have been able to get things done.
“We’ve gotten better at being able to execute as a group and really trying to focus in on the things that the coaches are asking us to do,” Salmon said. “We know that sometimes at the beginning we struggled with that, but we are all on the same page and that’s shown a lot at the end of the year.”
First-year forward Abby O’Connor finished as the highest scorer on the team with an average of 10.5 ppg. While she had a good season individually — being named MVC Freshman of the Week twice in the season and named to the MVC All-Freshman team — she said she couldn’t have done it without her team’s overall improvement.
“We’ve defended a lot better. Especially now, we’ve done well being able to get shots,” O’Connor said. “We’ve had a big focus on knowing our scouts and being particularly focused on our defense, because that usually fuels our offense in games. Throughout the year, we’ve really come to understand the defense that the coaches have been pushing on us.”
Salmon is the only player to have been on the team all four years, meaning she’s played under two different coaching staffs. She said the experience allowed her to learn a lot and value the little changes as they give her a better perspective.
“I think it’s really cool because seeing some of the puzzle pieces finally come together, it’s a lot easier to see the big picture,” Salmon said. “So maybe we didn’t win against as many teams as we hoped we would [but] so many more things are coming together and I’m really thankful to have been a part of that. Just knowing that it’s going to continue to move in the right direction and that we are doing things the right way makes me happy.”
While the overall experience was memorable for Salmon, O’Connor said her most memorable moment was a win against Southern Illinois University. The Ramblers — then in ninth place in MVC Standings — won 62-53 against the third-ranked Salukis in the MVC.
“I think we all were the only ones that believed in ourselves that we could pull out that victory,” O’Connor said. “It just felt really good to finally see our defense click and being able to execute and just see all of our hard work come out in the game.”
While this season has been full of ups and downs for the Ramblers, O’Connor said she was grateful for the experience and what it means for her and the team going forward.
“This season, we have definitely gone through our growing pains,” O’Connor said. “I think the way that we were able to push through even though we might not have gotten a win, just the fact that we were able to compete. Seeing that and being able to turn those into wins in the future. What I’ve learned this year will continue to help me and I’m going to keep learning new things as I get older.”
Achter said she was impressed with how far the team has come during the season. She said she was happy with where it ended up, and although there weren’t many wins, the team had improved tenfold in the end.
“I would say — and I have said — that this has been a bit of a rollercoaster year,” Achter said. “Some of that is tied to our youthfulness, but I’ve been really proud of our resiliency for as young as we [are]. I only anticipate that getting stronger as our program continues to grow.”
The team is now headed into the offseason, and nine of the current 12 players are expected to return to the team with the addition of some recruits.