Nick Knacks

Column: It’s Time to Buy Stock in Loyola Women’s Basketball

Nick Schultz | The PhoenixLoyola women's basketball head coach Kate Achter draws up a play during a timeout against Southern Illinois at Gentile Arena Jan. 5.

Loyola women’s basketball head coach Kate Achter walked into the media room at Gentile Arena with her daughter, Reese, on her hip Jan. 3. She had just watched her team fall to then-No. 17-ranked Missouri State University 74-72 in overtime, and you could tell she wasn’t angry about the loss.

It was the second time in three games the Ramblers took a ranked team down to the final minutes. Keep in mind, they lost by 26 points to one ranked team last season.

“I said this year at the Chicagoland Tip-Off Luncheon … we’ve got to get to the last five minutes of the game and have a shot to win it,” Achter said, recalling a question about how she knows her team’s gotten better. “I think we proved [against Missouri State] we’re ready to compete and I really look forward to the rest of our conference to see what that’s like.”

Since that game, Loyola is 4-1 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play, which includes a win over Illinois State University at Gentile this past weekend. That’s two wins shy of last year’s conference win total and puts the Ramblers in fourth place in the standings.

This team has something good going — and it’s time people take notice.

An average of 424 fans have attended women’s basketball games at Gentile so far this season. That excludes the game against Bowling Green State University Dec. 16 when 3,703 fans showed up — mostly schoolchildren for “Field Trip Day” who love to sing the song “Baby Shark” at the top of their lungs. It was great to see the arena packed, but my ears paid the price.

Nick Schultz | The Phoenix The Loyola women’s basketball team walks off the court after defeating Southern Illinois at Gentile Arena Jan. 5.

I’m not a math guy, but 424 seats out of 4,963 doesn’t sound like a lot considering Loyola’s 13-4. Students — and college basketball fans, for that matter — need to buy stock in this team.

The men’s basketball team has stolen headlines at Loyola the last couple years while it broke brackets during the 2018 NCAA Tournament and won back-to-back MVC regular season titles. The women’s team got overlooked as Achter went through her total program rebuild. 

This rebuild started three years ago when Achter took over a team that lost 10 letterwinners from its roster after former coach Sheryl Swoopes was accused of player mistreatment. Achter was left with three players — one junior and two sophomores — and had to recruit the other seven after she was hired in July 2016. The season started in November.

When she took the job, Achter implemented a mantra: “Turn the Ship.” She wanted to get the program on track to make a run at an MVC title within five years.

Here we are in year four. The Ramblers currently sit at 13-4 overall and 4-2 in MVC action. They’ve already tied last season’s win total and were the first program in Division I to be 8-0 away from home court. 

Nick Schultz | The Phoenix The Loyola women’s basketball bench reacts to a three-pointer by Kat Nolan during a game against Missouri State at Gentile Arena Jan. 3.

What if I told you this team was picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll this year?

At the time, I made it clear I disagreed. I didn’t get a vote, but if I did, I would’ve put Loyola at fourth or fifth place — probably via a coin flip. That’s fairly on pace with Achter’s five-year plan, which includes a postseason berth of some sort as a goal this season. 

That’s still achievable. The Ramblers look poised for a third or fourth-place finish if they keep this up. They’ve got a great core and managed to put together a season-opening nine-game win streak with the same starting lineup from last year.

There are still 12 games left in the regular season. With only one player set to graduate from the rotation, almost the entire roster should return next season. If this year is any indication, that’ll be a fun team to watch.

Achter just sounded the opening bell at the stock market. Knowing her, it won’t close until Gentile’s full.

Buy! Buy! Buy!

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