After a two-week layoff for winter break, the Loyola women’s basketball team (7-5, 1-0) came out firing in an 80-54 victory over Valparaiso University in its Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) opener Sunday afternoon. The win gave the Ramblers their second 1-0 start to MVC play since joining the conference in 2013.
Valparaiso, which joined the MVC last year, was picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in this year’s MVC preseason poll and falls to 4-9 with the loss. Loyola went 0-3 against the Crusaders last season, including a 63-46 loss in the first round of the MVC Tournament.
“What a performance,” Loyola head coach Kate Achter said after the game. “Back-to-back games where we scored 70 points, which is a pretty big deal for us given where we’ve come from … we got contributions from everybody, and we’ve been waiting for that to happen.”
Sophomore forward Abby O’Connor led the Rambler with 21 points and nine rebounds. First-year guard Janae Gonzales added 17 points in her first game back from a concussion, and first-year forward Allison Day contributed 11 points and six boards.
Loyola shot 58 percent from the floor, up from its season average of 42.5 percent. The Ramblers also shot a season-high 64.7 percent from beyond the three-point line, led by O’Connor’s 5-for-6 shooting from deep.
“This [win] is huge for us,” O’Connor said. “It was a big deal for us to have a good week in practice, which we did, leading up to the game and then to just come out and dominate the way we did was super exciting to see.”
It was all Loyola in the first half as the Ramblers shot 16-for-28 from the field — including 6-for-10 from three-point territory — to take a commanding 42-24 lead into the break. The offensive success continued in the second half as they outscored Valparaiso 38-30 in the last two quarters en route to the victory.
“All wins are good wins, but we’re more excited for our group than anything else,” Achter said. “They work really hard for me … there’s a lot of basketball left to be played, but what better way to start it than 1-0?”
Sophomore forward Alexis Meyer returned to the Loyola lineup after missing the first 13 games with a knee injury. Meyer scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in 14 minutes of action.
Despite Meyer’s return, the Ramblers were still short-handed as sophomore center Katherine Nolan suffered a foot injury against DePaul University Dec. 20, and Achter said she expects her to be out for about one week. Sophomore guard Kailyn Strawbridge remained sidelined with a knee injury.
Loyola is next scheduled to travel to Des Moines, Iowa to take on Drake University — the defending MVC champion and 2018 preseason favorite — Jan. 11. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.