A line of masked students stretched through the south end of Loyola’s Damen Student Center near the Damen Den on the eve of the Loyola men’s basketball team’s first March Madness showdown.
At an event sponsored by the official Loyola Athletics student section, The Pack, students grabbed maroon and gold shirts, pom-poms and dorm decor to celebrate the Ramblers’ second trip to March Madness in four years.
After coming out on top during the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season and winning the MVC tournament, Arch Madness, the No. 8-seeded Ramblers are preparing to face No. 9-seeded Georgia Institute of Technology March 19. If the Ramblers win, they’ll take on either No. 1 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or No. 16 Drexel University.
Kailie Ryan, a Loyola student and intern for The Pack, said the group was pleased with how the event turned out. She said they started with 500 shirts, all of which were gone in less than an hour.
“There was no way we could really gauge how many people were coming for an event like this, but we got the word out as much as we could and it looked like we were successful,” Ryan said. “We’re really, really happy with how it turned out.”
The 22-year-old said the student section typically hosts in-person events in non-COVID years, so they’ve had to transition to engaging people on social media and virtually. This was their first in-person event of the school year, aimed at giving students the chance to deck out in Rambler gear.
“The idea was just that people could come and take stuff to decorate their dorm or apartment or wherever they plan on watching the game, just to support the Ramblers and get them involved in The Pack,” Ryan said.
The Pack is asking students to tag them with dorm or apartment decor submissions on social media for the chance to win a prize.
For some students, the Ramblers’ recent success brought back memories of the team’s 2018 run.
Junior Savannah Baker, 21, said she was in Chicago on spring break as a high school senior when the team made the Final Four.
“It was super exciting to be in the city and around the atmosphere and get to celebrate and be like, ‘Hey, that’s where I’m going to school next year,’” she said.
Three years ago, Chicago rooted for the Ramblers in the form of city lights. The 290-foot Willis Tower antennas were lit up with maroon and gold, as was the top level of the John Hancock Center, The Phoenix reported.
From Michigan, Baker said she hopes the team faces off the University of Michigan — who the Ramblers fell to in the Final Four in 2018.
“I was a little sad to see my home state beat out my future college, so I want the rematch to happen and us to come out on top this time,” she said.
While a 2021 battle between the two is possible, it’s unlikely as Loyola and Michigan will only meet if they make it to the championship game.
Junior Bridget Schulte was also a senior in high school when the Ramblers went to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
At the time, Schulte’s soon-to-be school came out on top over her two siblings’ universities — Kansas State University and University of Kentucky.
“Kansas State played University of Kentucky and beat them, and then Loyola beat Kansas State, so it was just kind of funny, eliminating my older siblings throughout the tournament,” the 21-year-old said.
Schulte said she’s been keeping up with the Loyola’s games this season and hopes the Ramblers go all the way.
A senior, Ryan said she got involved with athletics after seeing the team’s Final Four run as a first-year at Loyola. She said she had thought the team was capable of returning to March Madness once more before her tenure at Loyola was up.
“I knew with the guys who were freshmen who are now seniors … I kind of knew that we’d be successful again, so I’m really excited to see how far we go this time,” the marketing and management major said.
Jack Viglianco is a first-year and part of the group of students who moved into Loyola dorms when housing became available in spring semester.
“All that we’ve given up in the past year, it feels good to have something to take pride in after a year that we were saying, ‘It will be back next year’ or ‘It will be back in the future,’” the 19-year-old said. “It’s good to have something to say, ‘We can have this now’ even though we … haven’t been able to go to any games.”
Skylar Sanders, a 21-year-old secondary education and English major, said the Ramblers went to the tournament when she was applying to college and it made her feel excited about coming to Loyola. Now, the junior said she sees the tournament as a way to bring the Loyola community together.
“I just think it’s amazing and really helps unify the school community,” Sanders said. “Even though we are not all together physically, we are all together spiritually cheering for the team as they advance far.
The Ramblers are set to square off with the Yellow Jackets March 19. Tip-off is slated for 3 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on TBS.