The Loyola women’s basketball team received a lot of attention for starting a program-record 9-0 this season — and rightfully so. But something arguably even more impressive is the team’s current 8-0 record on the road.
The Ramblers were the first Division I team to reach an 8-0 record on the road this year when they defeated Indiana State University Jan. 12 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Perennial women’s basketball powerhouse and No. 3-ranked University of Connecticut is the only other team to reach that mark so far this season.
Loyola head coach Kate Achter said getting a few early road wins was a big boost of confidence for the team. The Ramblers were tested early in the season, playing five of their first six games away from Gentile Arena — including a four-game road trip that included 5,000 miles of travel.
“I think winning a couple [road games] early helped us,” Achter said. “And now, we’ve just kind of kept it rolling.”
The wins have come across the country. Some haven’t required much travel, like Loyola’s 45-point thumping of next-door-neighbor Chicago State University Nov. 19. But others required the Ramblers to fly across the country, like when Loyola edged out a 78-64 overtime victory against the University of Portland Dec. 1.
While a sparkling 8-0 record is obviously good, it’s necessary to look at the Ramblers’ recent history to be able to gauge just how impressive this feat actually is.
For starters, this is head coach Kate Achter’s fourth season at the helm. The program has been trending upward every year since her 2-28 first season following the allegations of player mistreatment by former head coach Sheryl Swoopes in 2015-16. Both wins came at home that year.
Flash forward two years — the Ramblers finished 13-18 last season, but only four of those victories came on the road.
Over the course of her first three years, Achter’s squads went a combined 7-37 on the road.
The Phoenix compiled a database of all the away games the women’s basketball team played over the past five seasons:
Playing away from Gentile brings its own set of challenges. First, traveling brings an added level of time and discomfort. Also, it can take time to acclimate to an unfamiliar arena and the opposing fans that fill it. Earlier this season, Achter addressed these challenges and what they mean.
“They know what to expect,” Achter told The Phoenix. “They know if they’re down it’s just going to take a little bit more to come back up.”
As a junior, forward Abby O’Connor is familiar with the trials of being on the road. This year, she said she’s noticed a difference in the team’s mentality while traveling.
“I think a lot of [the success on the road] has to do with our confidence,” O’Connor said. “I think in the past, we questioned whether we were good enough, and now we know we’re good enough.”
Achter said there are less distractions on the road and the team’s chemistry helps make the traveling better.
“When [the players] are on campus, they got classes and they can go anywhere else in Chicago,” Achter said. “I think they really buy into that because they love each other as teammates.”
It’s worth noting the average opponent quality has been significantly better at home, judging based on rating percentage index (RPI) — a system that ranks all 352 Division I teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule. The average RPI ranking of the Ramblers’ opponents on the road is 272.6. On the flip side, the average RPI of Loyola’s opponents at home has been 108.9.
That doesn’t factor in travel and the intangible difficulties that come with playing away from home. And while the Ramblers are playing easier opponents on the road, they are also taking care of business. The Ramblers have won the eight road games by an average of 17.4 points per contest.
Achter acknowledged the Ramblers still have a difficult road ahead. The average RPI rank of Loyola’s remaining seven road games is 69.6, which includes No. 2 Missouri State University — its toughest away game, according to RPI. The Ramblers travel to Springfield, Missouri to take on the Lady Bears March 7.
“We know our road schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out, but what a remarkable accomplishment for a team that, three years ago, won two games,” Achter said.