Sports

All About the Atlantic: Scouting Loyola’s Future Opponents

Zack Miller | Loyola PhoenixLoyola Athletics announced that it will be moving to the Atlantic 10 conference for the 2022-2023 Nov. 16. The Ramblers will be leaving the Missouri Valley Conference after joining the MVC in 2013.

Loyola has spent the last eight years as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference after switching over from the Horizon League in 2013. Next season, the Ramblers will face brand new opponents as the university transfers to the Atlantic-10 Conference as announced Nov. 16.

The Phoenix breaks down what the Ramblers will be up against when they face their 14 new conference opponents.

Courtesy of Leslie Owen | Loyola Phoenix

Davidson College

The Davidson College men’s basketball team is the only Atlantic 10 competitor that Loyola will meet during its final season playing in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The Wildcats are currently on a five-game winning streak and will face Loyola at home Dec. 22.   

Junior guard Hyunjung Lee currently leads Davidson in scoring and rebounds with an average of 18 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Lee was also named to the A-10 Preseason First Team and was recently listed as the A-10 Player of the Week after back-to-back double-double performances. 

Despite being selected to finish sixth in the A-10, the Wildcats are currently ranked third in the conference and hold a 6-2 record so far this season.

University of Dayton

The University of Dayton women’s volleyball team has suffered a single loss in conference play during the last two seasons in addition to just six non-conference losses.

Despite the impressive record, Dayton will be losing redshirt senior outside hitter Jamie Peterson, who led the conference in kills, averaging 4.3 per set. The team’s next best offensive player, redshirt first-year outside hitter Lexie Almodovar, will have the chance to bridge the 123-kill gap between the two next season. 

On the defensive end, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Amelia Moore, who led the conference in blocks with 12 solo blocks and 125 block assists, is set to return next year. 

The Flyers made their 16th NCAA Tournament appearance this year, falling in the second round to close out the season with a 26-6 overall record. 

Duquesne University

The Duquesne men’s track and field has seen recent success, capturing seven events in outdoor competition since 2018. However, this success is concentrated among a few members of the roster.

One of these members is graduate student Isaac Elliott, who captured the conference title in the 100 and 200 meter dashes in both 2019 and 2021. Elliott was also a member of the conference-winning 400-meter relay team in 2018.

Fellow graduate student Casey Conboy came out victorious in the 2021 3,000-meter Steeplechase, while senior Matt Busche took the 2021 800-meter run.

Because all three of these event winners are either seniors or graduate students, it is unclear whether or not any of them will still be around to face the Ramblers on the track.

Fordham University

Women’s softball is perhaps where Fordham Athletics shines the most, capturing eight of the past Atlantic 10 Championships — most recently in 2019 against George Washington University.

During that time, the Rams have seen two nominations to the NCAA Woman of the Year award, including Michele Daubman in 2015 and current senior Brianna Pinto in 2021. 

However, Fordham will be losing Pinto and redshirt senior infielder Rachel Huberus, who leads the Rams in scoring with 13 home runs during the 2020-2021 season, by the time the Ramblers will be travelling to the Bronx to face the fellow Jesuit competitor.

Fordham is already off to a successful start of the 2021-2022 season, winning each matchup it played from its fall schedule — including a blowout 15-0 decision against St. Thomas Aquinas College Sept. 18. 

George Mason University

Although George Mason has not seen a March Madness appearance since 2011, the basketball culture that exists within the university could lend itself to a potential rivalry with Loyola.

The Patriots are 5-5 for the season so far and managed to pull off a 71-66 upset over University of Maryland on the road, which was ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll at the time. Josh Oduro, who was named to the A-10 Preseason Third Team, leads George Mason in scoring with an average of 18.1 points per game.

George Mason knows a thing or two about Cinderella stories, gaining publicity after making a Final Four run in 2006 after defeating University of North Carolina, University of Connecticut and Michigan State University. 

George Washington University

George Washington University’s dominant softball team could prove to be trouble for Loyola’s softball team. Coming off of a 10-14 season, the Colonials stormed back in 2021, going 23-1 in conference play and 37-11 overall.

Despite this, the team will be hitting a hard reset — losing their leading hitter, graduate utility player Sierra Lange, and their leading home run hitter, graduate utility player Allesandra Ponce. Luckily, they have some young talent to fill the gaps along with veteran leadership to help guide them. 

Sophomore pitcher Alexa Williams will still be eligible by the time the Ramblers join the A-10, and her 41 runs batted in will be the most of any returning player. Former Colonial Faith Weber has joined the coaching staff as a graduate assistant, bringing her expertise at the plate to the top. During the 2021 season, more than a quarter of Weber’s 48 hits were home runs. 

La Salle University

Although LaSalle may not have much history with the Ramblers, the Loyola women’s volleyball team has won each of the two meetings between the teams — 3-0 in 1994 and 2012. 

The Catholic university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has also faced off on the women’s basketball side eight times since 1988, winning six. The Ramblers last met the Explorers in the 2012-13 season and secured a close 56-50 victory.

The Loyola men’s basketball team also has a distant history with LaSalle, playing five games before 1995 and falling to the Explorers in all five. It remains to be seen how the Rambler teams measure up to the Explorers beginning in 2022.

University of Massachusetts

While conference play has yet to start in the A-10, the University of Massachusetts women’s basketball team has a solid 9-1 start to the season, their only loss being to No. 13 Iowa State University. This has put them at 52 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).

While the Loyola women’s basketball team is no stranger to facing teams that rank high in the NET — Missouri State University’s team comes in at 26 — the A-10 has several teams in the top 60, including Rhode Island (53), VCU (55) and Fordham (60).

Graduate forward Sam Breen has helped the minutewomen stay undefeated at home this season, bringing in 183 points in 10 starts, and her absence next season may not be missed with players like junior forward Angelique Ngalakulondi shooting nearly 67% from the field.

University of Rhode Island

Rhode Island is another school whose women’s basketball team could pose a threat to Loyola. Finishing last season third in the conference with an 11-4 conference record and 11-8 overall. The Rams are on a similar trajectory to Loyola with their improvements over the past few years — moving up from 14th place in the 2018-19 season to last year’s 3rd place finish. 

The Rams were led last year by current redshirt senior forward Emmanuelle Tahane who finished with an average of 14.8 points, with two other players in double-digit points. The Ramblers only boasted two players in double-digits last season, led by current senior forward Allison Day with 11.7.

However, with the Ramblers first postseason appearance in program history last season and a current spot at No. 4 in the Valley standings, the team could be in a place to compete with other women’s basketball teams in the A-10, including Rhode Island’s.

University of Richmond

The Spiders may not have teams from major sports that compete on the same level the Ramblers — with almost all of Loyola’s volleyball, soccer or basketball teams winning first or second in their regular season or MVC Tournament — but that doesn’t mean the school comes as a stranger to the Ramblers.

The Richmond men’s basketball team faced off against Loyola’s in recent history — Dec. 18, 2020. Although the Ramblers fought a hard second half against the then-No. 25 Spiders, Loyola eventually lost the match by a narrow 75-73.

St. Bonaventure University

St. Bonaventure’s men’s basketball team — who received 37 first place votes in the Dec. 6 AP Top 25 Poll compared to Loyola’s four — will prove to be a worthy opponent to the Ramblers. 

Last season, the Bonnies secured their first A-10 conference title since 2012 and their first outright A-10 regular season title in program history. They also equal the Ramblers with two automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament in the last four years. However, the Bonnies have not made it past the second round since 1970.

Two players from St. Bonaventure lead all Ramblers in averages of points per game so far this season — senior guards Kyle Lofton and Jared Holmes with 17.4 and 16.6, respectively, and redshirt Jalen Adaway with 13.6. The Bonnies also currently have five players with double-digit averages while the Ramblers have three. 

However, with three of their top players being seniors, it remains to be seen how the Bonnies will fare against the Ramblers in the coming years. 

Saint Joseph’s University

Similar to George Mason, St. Joseph’s maintains an intense basketball culture, despite making its last NCAA tournament appearance in 2016. The Hawks have made 21 March Madness and 16 National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in program history.

Apart from playing in the A-10, St. Joseph’s also competes as a member of the Philadelphia Big 5 — a group of basketball programs from Philadelphia universities that compete for a city championship. Among those teams is fellow A-10 member La Salle. 

The Hawks are ranked No. 47 in the NCAA for all-time wins with 1,654 wins since the program was developed in 1910. St. Joseph’s has also sent 29 players to the NBA.

Saint Louis University

Similarly to Loyola, Saint Louis University is a triple threat. It boasts solid teams in men’s basketball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer, however, its men’s soccer team specifically could mean trouble for Loyola. 

SLU’s men’s soccer team came out of a shortened season to go undefeated in eight conference games, going 16-1-4 overall. The Billikens also made a solid NCAA Tournament run, making it to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2003, and 

The team’s ability to control the ball shows in how many shots — and goals — they’re able to make each game. The Billikens made 323 shots on goal this season while their opponents made just 194. 

Junior forward Simon Becher brought in 14 goals — five more than Loyola’s leading scorer Billy Hency scored this season — while sophomore goalkeeper Patrick Schulte’s 72.7% save rate helped Saint Louis keep shut down opponents on the other end of the field. 

Virginia Commonwealth University

Despite a second place finish from the Virginia Commonwealth University women’s volleyball team, it came in first place regarding statistics, as VCU led the conference in hitting percentages, assists and kills last season. 

Helped along by junior outside hitter Qairo Bentley’s nearly three kills per set — which put her in the top 10 for kills in the conference — and sophomore middle blocker Jasmine Knight’s 105 blocks, the Rams’ 13-3 conference record and 18-12 overall record is nothing to scoff at either. Bentley was also in the A-10’s top scorers, bringing 325.5 points during the 2021 season.

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