After struggling to choose a consistent goalkeeper and starting the season with 6-0 loss, the Loyola women’s soccer team worked out the kinks to stay undefeated in conference play and is gearing up for its second consecutive NCAA tournament.
The NCAA announced the bracket Nov. 11, with Loyola drawing an away game in Hempstead, New York against Hofstra University. Loyola captains Ari Banks, Madison Laudeman and Aleksa Tataryn said when it was announced that none of the players knew anything about their opponent.
“We were trying to figure out who we might play and Hofstra wasn’t really in the mix,” Tataryn said. “We thought maybe we’d stay in the Midwest.”
The Ramblers received the automatic bid after repeating as both Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season champions and tournament champions.
This is the first time since 2006 and 2007 that Loyola is heading back to the big dance for two consecutive years. The team went undefeated in the conference season, landed eight players to all-conference teams and won three specialty awards — MVC Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coaching Staff of the Year. Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi said he credits some of the success to the seven seniors who have helped turn the program around.
“I know I have a very strong senior class that is very dedicated, motivated and competitive,” Bimbi said. “Whatever name popped up on the screen I know we would come and compete, so we’re athletic. We’re fast, but most of all it’s a group of girls that are pulling for each other.”
Despite knowing little about their opponent, the three said they’re feeling more prepared this year compared to last year. In 2018, the Ramblers lost 1-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Florida State University, which went on to win the whole thing.
“This year, we’re a bit more confident because we’ve been in this position before,” said Banks, a senior defender. “So, we know what’s coming.”
This will be the first ever matchup between Hofstra and Loyola. The Pride are ranked No. 16 in the Division I women’s soccer rating percentage index (RPI) while the Ramblers are ranked No. 56. The RPI is a system that ranks all 353 Division I teams based on wins, loses and strength of schedule.
The Pride — a member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) — head into the match 15-3-2 overall and 7-0-2 in conference play. Hofstra has gone unbeaten in its last 15 games.
The CAA is a conference of 10 different teams, mostly located on the eastern part of the country. The CAA ranked 11th in the latest NCAA RPI rankings, while the MVC ranked 20th. Loyola last played a CAA opponent in 2017 when it lost 1-0 to Drexel Aug. 25.
Hofstra beat James Madison University 5-1 to secure a third straight CAA Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Pride advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, while the Ramblers didn’t make it past the first.
“One thing we’ve done really well as group all year is play our game, whether it was home or away,” Bimbi said. “So, I think if we stick to what we do well and make them adjust to what we do well, I think we’ll be okay.”
Loyola is heading into the first round of the NCAA Tournament on a 12-game winning streak. The Pride are on a four-game winning streak and have gone undefeated at home this season. The Ramblers have only lost three of 10 away games this season.
All three captains agreed playing an undefeated team at home is a great motivator because they could potentially give Hofstra a loss on its home field.
“Momentum is one of the most powerful forces,” Laudeman said. “We have it, they have it. It will definitely be a test to see who comes out in the end.”
Loyola returned 18 players from its 2018 roster and added eight first-years and graduate transfer Simone Wark. This will be Wark’s fourth time playing in an NCAA Tournament and fifth time attending after playing for University of South Carolina. She didn’t play in 2017 due to a knee injury sustained before the season opened.
“Even seeing our result last year against No. 1 [Florida State University],” Laudeman said. “We obviously know we are capable of a lot of things.”
The game is scheduled to kick off Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. in Hempstead, New York. The winner of the game will advance to play the winner of No. 1 seed Stanford versus Prairie View University.