The Loyola women’s basketball team was recently ranked seventh among ten teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll Oct. 19. With the start of the 2022 season less than a week away, the Ramblers are hoping to keep improving and find more success.
Coming off a 2020-2021 season that concluded with the first postseason appearance in team history, head coach Kate Achter said her players are ready for a tough season ahead.
“We are going to make a hard push to challenge for a top spot in the Valley this year,” she said. “I know they are ready to work for it, and I am confident that they’ll have a lot of success this year.”
Loyola only lost one starter from the 2020-2021 roster — Ellie Rice, a former guard, graduated last spring. During the 2020-2021 season, she started all 27 games, averaging 10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Earning her place in program history, Rice’s 1,009 points placed her 26th all-time in points scored, while her 110 three-pointers made her 10th all-time in three-pointers made.
Achter said Rice was a great player and teammate, helping mentor other guards like sophomore Maya Chandler.
“We are going to miss Ellie’s defense and the shot-making ability that she brought to us,” Achter said. “She prepared our returning guards to fill some of the roles that she did here.”
However, the Ramblers retained four of last year’s starters. First Team All-MVC senior forward Allison Day, Loyola’s leading scorer and rebounder, is returning after posting 11.7 points per game and 187 last season.
Graduate guard Bre Hampton-Bey also stayed after being the team’s fourth-highest scorer last season, earning her a spot on the MVC All-Newcomer Team.
Not to mention, reigning MVC Freshman of the Year sophomore Maya Chandler remains a key piece on the team as she looks to build off an impressive first year where she started in all 27 games. She said she has improved her shooting, finishing and transition play during the off-season as she hopes to make an MVC All-Conference team.
“I’ve been working a lot on being more of a prominent shooter and being more willing to shoot from the three-point line,” she said. “We are starting to push more as a team in transition, so a part of my job is being able to find who is open.”
Achter was busy recruiting this off-season, adding four newcomers to her roster. She signed three first-year players, including guards Maddie Scarborough and Trinity Clinton and forward Destiny Jackson.
Achter said her first-year players are catching up to her tough expectations after their high school seasons were impacted by COVID-19. She said they have bought into the team’s philosophy and are learning how to fit into her style of play.
Adding experience to the team, graduate forward Riley Blackwell transferred to Loyola from Northern Illinois University this season, utilizing her fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA COVID-19 rule.
During her four-year stay as a Husky, Blackwell started in 61 out of 111 appearances, averaging 4.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and one assist per game. Achter said Blackwell brings a necessary dose of experience, maturity and skill to the team.
As a whole, Achter said her team is more confident this season. After competing in the Women’s Basketball Invitational last spring, she said the experience validated the players’ hard work.
“They feel like they can really do some things,” Achter said. “I don’t have to be the one at practice reminding them that all the time, which is an awesome place to be because I have time and energy for other things.”
With experienced players and a group of newcomers, Day said the team is deeper this season. Loyola’s sturdy group of bench players is crucial to keeping up the momentum late in games, she said.
“Not only do we have our starting five, but we’ve got five after that and the next five are going to push all ten of us,” Day said. “We are all competitive and make each other better.”
While the Ramblers don’t face any opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, the team’s schedule isn’t a cakewalk either. Loyola will face non-conference, “Red Line Rival” DePaul University and conference foe Missouri State University twice, both of which received votes in the AP Top 25 poll. Achter said the team’s non-conference schedule will prepare it for conference play and a possible postseason run.
“We want to have a successful non-conference [schedule] and have challenged ourselves with Northwestern, DePaul and Central Michigan,” Achter said. “We think that these teams are going to prepare us for the Valley.”
The difficulty of competing in the Valley is something Achter refers to as a “bear” to play in. The Valley’s tight schedule makes the season harder as the Ramblers play many conference games on short rest — such as when they play at Missouri State Dec. 31 and then travel to face Southern Illinois University Jan. 2 in Carbondale, Illinois. Achter said the tough schedule will prepare her team for postseason success.
“Our goal is the Women’s National Invitation Tournament or NCAA tournament, and you have to have success in the Valley for those things to happen,” she said. “I know everyone on our roster is committed to making that happen.”
The Ramblers begin their season against the University of Detroit Mercy Nov. 9 at Gentile Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. though broadcasting information has not been released yet.