As the Loyola women’s basketball team prepares for the upcoming season, determination and morale remain high even after low finishes the past two years.
The team ended the 2017-18 season with a record of 7-23 and the 2016-17 season with a record of 2-28. Last year, the team lost the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament to Valparaiso 63-46.
“We knew we’d take our lumps the first two years,” head coach Kate Achter said. “But by year three, we have all of the kids that are fitting our system style-wise … we won’t change much, we’ll go a little more up-tempo because our kids are in better shape, they understand more.”
At the end of the 2015-16 season, former coach Sheryl Swoopes was accused of mistreatment of players and 10 out of 13 players chose to leave, The Phoenix reported. Swoopes left the program in the summer of 2016, and Achter was subsequently hired as head coach with the task of rebuilding the team.
The Ramblers welcome three first-years to the team, along with junior college transfer junior guard Jazmine Covington. Sophomore center Kat Nolan said she thinks they’ll bring a lot to the team in the upcoming season. She said Allison Day, a first-year forward, has been doing a good job of learning the new defense and working at the college level, and first-years forward guard Maya Dunson and shooting guard Janae Gonzales are also contributing a lot as well.
“They really spread the floor for us,” Nolan said. “I think that they’re going to be big parts of our team this year.”
Achter said Day and Gonzales have a firm grasp of what the team is doing, which she said is good because she recruited them to contribute immediately. In terms of returning players, Achter said she has her eyes on sophomore guard Abby O’Connor and junior guard Tiara Wallace to have standout seasons this year.
O’Connor said some of her goals for the team’s improvement this season are to know each other better on the court, communicate better and improve the team’s overall defense. She said the players can’t win games without a good defense, so it’s going to be one of their priorities.
Nolan agreed and said the team’s toughness and defensive finishes will be important.
“[Getting] all the loose balls in all the toughest places … that’s what’s really gonna set us apart from a lot of the other teams that we’re gonna face,” Nolan said.
O’Connor, a political science and sociology double major, said the Ramblers’ past offseason went well and many returners have made big improvements and will be big pieces for them next year. She said overall the players are happy with the progress they’ve made.
“Altogether as a group, I think this offseason we’ve done a better job of really being more of a cohesive group,” O’Connor said.
After the Ramblers finished last season in a tie for eighth place in the MVC, they were picked ninth out of 10 in this year’s MVC preseason poll. Achter said she’s thrilled they were picked in this lower rank so she can use it to motivate the team.
Compared to other teams in the conference, the Ramblers are a young team, with eight of eleven players being underclassmen. However, Loyola isn’t the only team with a lower experience level this season. Illinois State University is bringing in six newcomers to their roster of twelve players.
Achter said the good chemistry amongst the players is something that matters a lot to her, especially with where the program is in its rebuild.
“All of our girls, they get along, they’re invested in each other and that’s really important when you’re trying to turn a program around,” Achter said. “All those kids in the locker room need to believe, and they do.”
Achter said this year the team is focusing on bettering their execution, creating more offense and working on their transitions. Overall, she said has a positive outlook and thinks the group is going to be really competitive and fun to watch.
“They’re never gonna give up, and that’s exactly what I wanted our group to be,” Achter said.
The Ramblers are set to take on North Central College at Gentile Arena for an exhibition game Nov. 3 at 1 p.m.