The Loyola women’s basketball team, while still looking to grow, is seeing its biggest improvements in head coach Kate Achter’s third year. Currently tied for seventh place in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), the Ramblers have a record of 9-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play.
They have the same amount of wins as of Jan. 30 as the last two seasons combined, which wasn’t the most difficult feat considering the Ramblers finished in ninth place or lower in the previous seasons.
Achter was tasked with rebuilding the team from scratch when Sheryl Swoopes left Loyola after The Phoenix unsurfaced player mistreatment allegations in 2016. Since then, it’s been a tedious rise to improvement.
In the 2017-18 season, the Ramblers went 7-23 overall and 5-13 in conference. In 2016-17 — Achter’s first year at the helm — they went 2-28 overall and 1-17 in conference play.
The team’s seven home wins have also surpassed its six home wins in the last two seasons combined.
Achter said the improved support from the crowd has helped them at home, with crowd size and participation growing through her three seasons at Loyola. She also said the players’ attitudes are helping them secure these wins.
“[They] understand the importance of handling your business at home where you’re comfortable,” Achter said. “And if you can find consistency at home, then you have a better chance to take it on the road, and that’s what we’re pushing for.”
Sophomore guard Ellie Rice, 19, said the newcomers — four this year, compared to six last year — also have stepped into their roles. She added they’ve been an important piece for the team defensively, especially now that they’ve gotten more used to how the team plays.
Guard Janae Gonzales averages just over 28 minutes per game, and forward Allison Day averages just over 21 per game.They’ve been tallying up points too, as Gonzales averages 11.6 per game and Day averages 6.2 points per game.
“They can do a little bit of everything,” junior guard Tiara Wallace, 21, said. “They can step out, they can shoot threes, they can post inside … they have all the characteristics that we need from [them].”
The new players are adding a lot to the program in terms of their unique skill sets, but they’re also fitting into the dynamic of the team, Achter said. Rice agreed, saying the progression of the season has also allowed them to better know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“[They] understand the importance of handling your business at home where you’re comfortable and if you can find consistency at home, then you have a better chance to take it on the road, and that’s what we’re pushing for.”Kate Achter
In terms of returning members, Achter said Rice is one player who’s stepped up and leads her teammates by example. She said the players have a variety of leadership styles between them which bring something different to the team.
“They handle things on the floor [and] off the floor for me that I don’t have to worry about,” Achter said. “Some of them are vocal, some of them are quiet, some of them lead by example and then some of them [act as] a good encourager or communicator.”
The veterans are piling up the points as well. Wallace averages 8.1 points per game and Rice averages 11.4 points per game. Sophomore guard Abby O’Connor has the highest number of points of anyone on the team, averaging 13.2 points per game.
As much as the team might be improving, Wallace said it needs to do some work with its first and third quarter starts. On average, the team scores 20.8 points in the fourth quarter compared to an average of 12.9 points in the first quarter.
In the past two seasons, the games against University of Northern Iowa and Drake University were lost by a margin of at least 25 points each. The team lost these games, but the team said it was able to put up more of a fight than in previous years.
“Drake [is] a team that’s one of the best in the country, so you take a program that’s growing like ours and you say ‘Hey, we can go toe-to-toe with these guys for this long,’” Achter said. “That goes miles for their confidence.”
Achter said these baby steps and small milestones are important for their program and where they want to be as a group, and the players are embracing the climb to improvement. Rice said those two games also gave them momentum and more confidence in themselves going forward.
“I think it just shows how much we’ve grown,” Wallace said. “So just being together on the floor, when all five people are on the same page, [it shows] how much magic we can create.”
The Ramblers are set to take on Illinois State University Feb. 1 at Gentile Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.