Coming fresh off the program’s first winning season since 2012-13, the Loyola women’s basketball team lost two of its top three scorers. However, head coach Kate Achter replenished her squad by bringing on a trio of first-year players.
Achter’s additions include a pair of guards in Maya Chandler and Kaylen Evans and a 6-foot-2 forward in Sitori Tanin.
Achter explained the uniqueness of this year’s newcomers in terms of what they bring to the court.
“They’re different than any recruiting class we’ve brought in to this point,” Achter told The Phoenix. “Their skill set is a little bit different. They’re a little more polished. They eat, sleep and breathe basketball.”
Prior to the season, Achter said she thought Tanin had the best chance to make an immediate impact due to injuries impacting frontcourt depth. Two rotational pieces from last season, senior forwards Kat Nolan and Alexis Meyer have both battled injuries during the offseason, according to Achter. Add in the loss of last year’s leading scorer Abby O’Connor, the new forward has a big hole to fix.
If the Ramblers’ first game was any indication, Achter was right about Tanin’s potential impact this season. The forward from Middleton, Wisconsin scored a team-high 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field in the season opener against Chicago State University Nov. 28.
Achter raved about Tanin’s athleticism, calling her “one of the most athletic post players” she’s ever been around. In addition to basketball, Tanin also competed in track and field events at Middleton High School.
“It helped with my athleticism and that just transfers over onto the court,” Tanin said about running track and field. “Having that athleticism can up the entire pace of the game which can throw off the other team, frustrate them and cause us to get turnover and score off them.”
Tannin said even when playing other sports, basketball was always in her heart.
“Definitely from a young age I knew I wanted to stay with basketball but also keep those other developments from other sports,” Tanin said. “Being a multiple sport athlete helps with every aspect of athleticism with basketball.”
Last year, sophomore guard Jala Johnson was the only first-year player to be named a starter and it didn’t happen until the final eight games of the season. Tanin and Chandler both earned starting nods in the victory over the Cougars.
Before the season, Chandler talked about her emphasis on defense and how she fits into the Ramblers’ defensive scheme.
“Our defense is a lot more gritty and nasty than last year,” Chandler said. “[Achter] wants it to be more in-your-face defense this year.”
Achter praised Chandler’s aggressive defense and competitive spirit.
“Maya Chandler is as blue-collar, scrappy and aggressive as they possibly come,” Achter said. “She’s one of those kids that you’re really thankful she’s on your team because she’s going to be the one slapping the ball out of your hands or swiping at rebounds.”
Despite coming in with a defensive reputation, Chandler showcased her scoring ability against Chicago State. The 5-foot-7 guard from Triton Central High School in Martinsville, Indiana put up 14 points and converted all six of her free throw attempts.
“Maya had great poise with the ball in her hands and Sitori is just a maniac to the boards, and I mean that in the best way possible,” Achter said about the pair of first-year starters after the game.
Evans, the third first-year on this season’s roster, didn’t score a point against the Cougars, but tallied a rebound, assist and a steal in 13 minutes of action.
Evans, a New Lenox, Ill. native, led Nazareth Academy to a third place finish in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A State Tournament during her junior year in 2019.
Coach Achter spoke highly of Evans’ abilities, hustle on the court and her competitive edge.
“[She’s] skilled off ball screens,” Achter said. “She’s smaller in stature, but very, very crafty. We kind of joke that she’s like the silent assassin in practice because she’s very even-keeled, but when it comes time to compete, she shines.”
During the offseason, Evans said she had been learning things like reading defenses from Achter — who was an All-American guard at Bowling Green State University.
Chandler echoed the sentiment shared by Evans when asked about Coach Acter’s tutelage, especially having a woman coach with a similar perspective.
“It’s been great,” Chandler said. “I love playing for people who have experiences like yours. That’s one of the reasons I wanted a woman coach. It’s easier to learn from someone who also sees it from the same perspective.”
Achter and her trio of first-year players are scheduled to take on DePaul University Dec. 13 on the road. The Blue Demons were ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press’ Nov. 29 Top 25 poll. The game is set to tip off at 3 p.m. on Blue Demons All-Access.