This year, many Loyola athletes have had successful seasons. The men’s basketball team is heading to the big dance after 33 seasons, both the women’s and men’s soccer teams continued into the postseason, and the track and field and cross country teams have seen Missouri Valley Conference championships. And now, the Loyola women’s club ice hockey team (9-4-1) is seeing success in its season, too.
The team won its first conference championship Feb. 27 since joining the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) in 2014. The win not only earned the Ramblers a championship title, but also secured them a spot to compete in the national championship in Columbus, Ohio March 13-18. Some teams heading to nationals that didn’t win a championship were hand picked by the ACHA board.
In 2007, the team had its inaugural season. For the first seven seasons, Loyola played in the Women’s Central Hockey League (WCHL), a women’s recreational league, in the Grey and White Divisions. During their time in the WCHL, the Ramblers won two division championships in 2009 and 2013. After its 2013 championship season, the Ramblers moved from the WCHL to the ACHA and began competing in the Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association (CCWHA) conference. This move allowed Loyola to compete against other collegiate athletes — a chance it didn’t have in the WCHL.
Sophomore forward Maureen O’Brien, one of the team’s assistant captains, said getting an automatic bid to nationals is the best thing that could’ve happened to the team.
“By winning that championship, we got an automatic placement, so it was a huge relief not to have to rely on the board and just know that we completely earned it, no bias or anything,” O’Brien said. “It is something that we have been reaching for and it has been a goal, but we weren’t sure if we were ever going to be able to get there.”
Heading into playoffs, Loyola finished the regular season in third behind Adrian College and Northern Michigan University, which finished the regular season No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. This is the first season Adrian is in the same league as Loyola, so it was hard to know what to expect when facing them, according to junior defender Caitlin Earley.
Adrian finished the regular season undefeated with a 10-0 record and 20 points, and the Ramblers had to face Adrian in the first round of the playoffs. The outcome of the game wasn’t what anybody expected, according to Earley, as the Ramblers beat the undefeated Bulldogs 3-1.
“[Beating Adrian] was almost even crazier than actually winning playoffs,” Earley said. “That was our first game in the whole tournament, so we had no idea what we were getting into because we hadn’t played them since the beginning of the season.”
During the second round of the playoffs, Loyola faced University of Notre Dame. Despite the Ramblers finishing the first period of the game with a 2-0 lead, Notre Dame was able to score four goals in the second to win the game 4-3. This was Loyola’s only loss of the four games it played during the tournament. O’Brien said the team was missing its top defender for the game — sophomore Reagan Lynn — so it was hard to adjust.
Lynn was suspended for one game after a hit during the game against Adrian. The hit was originally deemed clean but, after further review, the league decided the hit warranted a one-game suspension. O’Brien said the Ramblers didn’t let the loss affect them, as they bounced back and beat Northern Michigan 3-1.
Loyola moved on to the championship round where it had to face Notre Dame again. O’Brien said the previous loss was no longer on the players’ minds.
“We were all exhausted at that point having played three games already, but we knew that everything was on the line for that game only,” O’Brien said. “Basically, [the game] could decide if our season was over or if we went on to nationals. We just all scraped up every last bit of energy we had and just went out there as hard as we could.”
The team is under new leadership this season. Its new head coach, Brian Boll, helped players expand their hockey knowledge and fine-tune their skills, according to O’Brien.
“He was really able to teach our team some things that we maybe hadn’t been noticing which really kind of helped us bring ourselves together and to the next level,” O’Brien said. “It has been really great to have him on the bench.”
After the tournament, Loyola’s goaltender, first-year Julia Smith, was named Tournament MVP and first team All-Tournament. Loyola had three players named first team All-Tournament: Smith, O’Brien and first-year defender Whitney Knight.
“It is definitely a big honor [being named first team All-Tournament] and since I have played for so long in my life, being a part of an all tournament team is a dream come true,” O’Brien said.
The team is scheduled to travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on University of Delaware in the first round of the National Championship March 14.