After starting the regular season with one of two games at home, the Loyola women’s basketball team will be traveling nearly 5,000 miles over three weeks to play four teams on the road.
This year, the Ramblers won’t play a game at Gentile Arena between Nov. 13 and Dec. 4. They’ll be going out to face Eastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, University of Missouri-Kansas City and University of Portland.
Loyola ranked No. 254 on the final NCAA Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rankings last season, and of the schools they’ll face on this road swing, only Eastern Illinois ranked lower at No. 295. The RPI is calculated by a team’s wins and losses compared to the strength of its schedule, meaning Loyola will be facing off against mostly tougher teams on this road stretch.
Loyola head coach Kate Achter said starting the season on the road isn’t something new for the team. She said although she wishes every game could be at home, she’s glad Loyola could play an exhibition against University of St. Francis Oct. 29 and the home opener against University of Vermont Nov. 8 at Gentile before the trip.
Loyola defeated St. Francis 71-29 and Vermont 78-76 and traveled to University of Detroit Mercy Nov. 5 to win its first away game 89-60. The Ramblers lost their final three away games last season.
“[The road trip] is not out of the realm of things to happen for us,” Achter said. “But I think [the team’s] maturity really helps as we go on that road trip.”
The team is only playing four games on its road stretch this year, but played five-game stretches in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Achter said the experiences of past away games will be valuable for this year’s trip.
In the 2016-17 road trip, Loyola played all five games out of state — three as far away as Florida — and took losses on all of them. The Ramblers lost all 14 away games they played that season.
The next year’s stretch took place in Illinois and Milwaukee, and the Ramblers tallied one win over Chicago State 46-28. They won a total of three out of 16 away games that year.
Last season, the Ramblers home record was 8-7 and their away record was 4-10. In their longest away stretch — three games between Feb. 28 and March 9 — they lost all three games. Through the entirety of the last three seasons, the Ramblers have performed better and secured more wins when playing in front of familiar fans in their own arena.
Possible reasons teams favor playing at home versus away include: not having to travel, having the support of a home crowd and comfortability in the home arena.
The Ramblers will have an experienced roster this year as they welcome back their entire starting lineup, including junior guards Abby O’Connor and Ellie Rice and sophomore guard Janae Gonzales.
“They know what to expect,” Achter said. “They know if they’re down it’s just going to take a little bit more to come back up.”
Loyola was picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference in the 2019 MVC coaches’ preseason poll. The team finished seventh in the conference last season with a 13-18 overall record.
Achter said the Ramblers will be working hard in the days before playing Eastern Illinois Nov. 13 since it’s always difficult to win when away. She said this year’s team is mature and “battle-tested” and she’s looking forward to seeing how they do on the road.
Sophomore forward Allison Day — who scored the game-winning shot for the Ramblers against Vermont — said she thinks road trips are fun for the players even though they do bring challenges.
“We want that test and we want to succeed there,” Day said.
O’Connor also said the road trips create a closer bond between the players since they have to be around each other so much.
“I think we’re looking forward to that time together,” O’Connor said.
The Ramblers are set to start their road trip against Eastern Illinois in Charleston, Illinois Nov. 13. Tip-off is scheduled for noon and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.