A group of about 60 students witnessed Marques Townes and Clayton Custer walk off the court in disappointment after Loyola fell to Bradley University March 9 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament semifinals in St. Louis. While the Ramblers had a spot in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), the loss ended any hope for the team to repeat its Cinderella run in the big dance last season.
It was the final Arch Madness for the pair of redshirt senior guards, and it ended when Townes’ potential game-tying shot missed in the final seconds. Expectations were high entering the season as Loyola was picked as the preseason favorite to win the MVC, leaving many fans hoping for another Cinderella story. Head coach Porter Moser only boosted those expectations when he spoke in front of incoming student orientations over the summer to “recruit” new students to follow the team.
Last season’s Final Four run led to an increase in overall student attendance to the university as well as student interest in all sports at Loyola, The Phoenix reported. However, Loyola’s women’s soccer team has been the only team to capitalize on the increased interest by making it to the NCAA Tournament for its respective sport.
Despite never stringing together more than three consecutive wins all season, expectations were still high after Townes took home the MVC Player of the Year award and Loyola locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
“I think we were all kind of shocked,” Giancarlo Garcia, a senior biology major, said. “We all were expecting to make [the NCAA Tournament] again and have a good run, but I know we were all kind of hurt when we didn’t see the same kind of result as last year.”
While Zach Coe, a sophomore journalism major, said he knew the odds of Loyola repeating its success from last season were slim, he was still disappointed in how the season ended.
“I feel like everyone was just kind of expecting them to be a Final Four team again,” Coe said. “That was pretty unrealistic. I was just hoping for another [NCAA] Tournament berth, maybe a first round win.”
Students and fans came out in droves to witness the Ramblers attempt to recreate the magic from last year. The initial student turnout even prompted the athletics department to alter its ticket policy to allow the maximum amount of students to attend games.
Senior Lexi Belleville has worked at Gentile Arena during basketball games for the past four years. She said the fan turnout this season, especially in the beginning of the season, was much bigger than any of the previous years.
This season, average attendance per game was up to 3,712 people compared to an average turnout of 2,404 last season. Also, the Ramblers sold-out Gentile Arena six times this season after reaching maximum capacity just once last season.
“It’s been a little hectic at times, but it’s really great to finally see the arena full of fans because I’ve been working there for three years and it’s been empty,” Belleville, an environmental science major, said. “There’s parents and families from Chicago that come. It’s really special.”
Belleville said she isn’t concerned about fan turnout for next season. She said the team gained a lot of passionate fans during the Final Four run who’ll continue to support the team. Belleville also said she thought the team was successful this past season, despite the Ramblers not making it back to the NCAA Tournament.
Other Rambler fans are less optimistic that student support will continue to hold up. First-year Bekah Cates attended all but two home games and made the trip to Arch Madness. She said she anticipates somewhat of a drop-off in attendance, but added she’ll continue to strongly support the team next year, despite the fact that her favorite player — Townes — will have graduated.
“I honestly don’t think it will be as severe as this year just because people did have expectations and I don’t want to say they were let down, but we didn’t meet those expectations,” Cates, a human services major, said. “I do think it’ll air out a little bit, but since we did make it this far just two years ago and people have heard of the Cinderella story, I think it won’t die off completely.”
Fellow first-year student Lily Kreuter also said there might not be quite as many fans at the games next year since the team wasn’t as successful this season. However, Kreuter said she isn’t worried because the atmosphere on game days is electric. She also attended Arch Madness and said that it was great being surrounded by diehard Loyola fans.
“Game days have such a fun environment around them, and we have such a strong school spirit after last year,” Kreuter said. “The great thing about Arch Madness was everyone there was a hardcore basketball fan, and we were all just there supporting our boys and supporting our school. It was really fun to see everyone unite around that.”