This season, the Loyola women’s basketball team (9-7, 3-2) has almost more wins than the last two seasons combined. Head coach Kate Achter is crediting her five-year plan.
Achter took over the program in 2016 after Loyola and former head coach Sheryl Swoopes parted ways after The Phoenix reported allegations of player mistreatment. The team lost all but three players going into Achter’s first season, leaving her with a small, inexperienced roster.
Achter said the end goal after five seasons is to win the MVC (Missouri Valley Conference) Tournament and compete in the NCAA Tournament. Getting there all depends on the work the team puts in now.
Achter said she realizes that seems like a far-fetched goal considering the team only won two games her first season, but, when the team went to more than triple its wins the following season, the team’s improvement showed. Now, Loyola holds nine wins and it’s only halfway through its conference season.
“If your goal is to win an MVC championship, you have to understand you don’t just write it down and it’s going to happen in the first year,” Achter said. “There are a lot of other steps that go into the process.”
Hence, Achter developed her five-year plan. The plan consists of five “mini-goals” to shoot for each season, and Achter said she worked out the plan before her first season.
The first year of the plan was titled “Planting the Seed,” and Achter said it was focused on implementing a system to grow and repair anything that was broken in previous seasons — even when the team was losing. One of the areas that needed attention was the Ramblers’ recruiting relationship in the Chicagoland area due to fallout caused by the Swoopes investigation.
Junior guard Tiara Wallace is one of the two remaining players left on the roster from the first year of the plan. She said there were a lot of struggles that year, but because she knew there was a bigger plan in place, she was confident the coaches would get them there.
“From day one, they implemented the five-year plan and we [bought] in right away,” Wallace said. “Every day it’s in the back of our minds. [It’s] what we need to do to become a better program.”
Year two brought in Achter’s first recruiting class with now-sophomore guard Abby O’Connor headlining the newcomers. That season focused on using those new assets to push themselves farther than they performed the previous year.
“[We started] to see the big picture take shape,” Achter said. “Your kids are more comfortable in the system. They’re playing within the system and wins and losses start to become a little more evident.”
While the Ramblers still didn’t see a winning record in year two, progress was just around the corner, according to Achter. Now with Achter in her third year at the helm, she’s focused on growing those planted seeds and seeing success from them. Currently, Loyola is beginning to reap what Achter has sowed with a record of 9-7 overall.
O’Connor said Achter’s second set of recruits really added to the team. She said the new players have been able to help them be a more consistent team both offensively and defensively.
New addition first-year guard Janae Gonzales is the third leading scorer behind O’Connor and sophomore guard Ellie Rice. She is averaging 10.8 points per game and is the most consistent shooter with a 44.7 percent clip from the field, which is more than 20 percent higher than the team’s average from last year.
Additionally, first-year forward Allison Day has tallied 74 rebounds which is ranked third behind veterans O’Connor and Wallace. Achter said she’s been able to be a force on defense, especially with the absence of injured sophomore center Kat Nolan.
“Them buying in and being able to run our defense so much more efficiently and we’re really catching on to how were supposed to move together,” O’Connor said. “Offensively, I think we just have a lot more fire power and we’re able to score more points this year than we did last year. Just constantly getting better.”
Achter said year four is all about structuring a solid non-conference schedule to allow the team the chances to compete in some sort of postseason run — whether it be National Women’s Invitational Tournament or the NCAA Tournament.
Year five is the culmination of the work of the four other years. O’Connor said the five-year plan is constantly around the team, even if it’s not directly referenced. The team has coined the phrase “Turn the Ship” to represent its goals for the future.
“We don’t talk about it every day, but ‘Turn the Ship’ is definitely something that is said often throughout the program,” O’Connor said. “Our goal is to follow out the five-year plan, which right now we’re pretty much on track with it.”
While the success of the five-year plan might not show completely in the results, Achter said it shows in many other areas beyond the surface level.
“Our chemistry is better,” Achter said. “Our kids are more balanced academically. We have a better reputation on campus and we’re competitive in every game. It’s very rare that we’re blown out and that speaks to the quality of athletes we have in our program, but also how much they believe in what we’re doing.”