November 20, 2021 

‘We want to be impactful right away’: What the move to the Atlantic 10 means for Loyola women’s basketball

Recent A-10 additions have struggled early on, but the Ramblers will look to make a splash next season

When Loyola joins the Atlantic 10 on July 1, 2022, it will be the first team to join the conference since Davidson was added in 2014. 

“We want to come in and we want to be impactful right away,” Ramblers head coach Kate Achter said. “And having experience playing in the MVC [Missouri Valley Conference], which is really, really good, I think prepares us to meet some of the really strong opponents in the Atlantic 10. So I want us to come in and be competitive right away, and I want us to be as prepared as anybody in that league to compete at a high level.” 

Achter took over the program in 2016 after the school fired Sheryl Swoopes. She is 49-98 overall and 26-64 in the MVC in her first five seasons. But her impact on the program goes beyond her record of wins and losses. 

“We affectionately call it her fifth season, because her first year we call year zero,” Loyola director of athletics Steve Watson said about Achter’s tenure. “It almost didn’t count because she was really, really starting from scratch.” 

National women’s basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli told The Next, “I think Kate Achter is a really smart young hustler, up-and-coming coach. And I think that this is going to be a huge bonus for her to have an opportunity to compete against some other teams in the A-10 that are going to help the league’s brand.”

Achter is already familiar with the A-10, having served as an assistant coach and associate head coach for a total of five seasons at St. Bonaventure. While in Olean, she helped take the Bonnies to postseason play three times, including a Sweet 16 in 2012. 

“I might be one of the few people that’s very excited to go to Olean, New York,” Achter said. “But I loved my time as a Bonnie and I have such great respect for the Olean community and how much value they put on basketball, men’s and women’s basketball. So I was really, really excited to learn that we could be going back there.”

Achter is also looking forward to playing against other notable programs. She listed Saint Joseph’s, which plays in Hagan Arena (which opened in 1949), and George Washington, which has won seven conference tournaments since 1992. Achter also mentioned Dayton, one of the top teams in the league, and Rhode Island, which she said has been “making some waves now, too.”

“It’s really exciting all around because it’s just such good basketball,” she said. 

In Achter’s first season, Loyola went 1-17 in the MVC, but it progressed to 8-10 in conference play during the 2020-21 season. While the team has been improving in the MVC, the transition to the A-10 may provide the Ramblers with some challenges. 

Most recently, VCU (2012), Mason (2013) and Davidson (2014) all struggled in their first year in the A-10. 

VCU had a 19-15 record, including 9-9 in the CAA, during the 2011-12 season and went 11-19 and 4-10 in the A-10 during the 2012-13 season.

Mason went 9-21 overall and 4-14 in the CAA in the 2012-13 season and 8-23 overall and 1-15 in the A-10 in the 2013-14 season. 

In its last season in the Southern Conference, Davidson went 16-16, including 11-17 in conference play. During the 2014-15 season, the Wildcats went 5-25, including 1-15 in A-10 play.  

Though it may take time for the Ramblers to gain their footing in the A-10, the team will have the opportunity to renew its rivalry with Saint Louis, as both teams were a part of the Horizon League from 1982-1991. Loyola will also have the opportunity to create a regional rivalry with Dayton, which like Saint Louis is about five hours away from Chicago. 

Moving to the A-10 conference also opens up a lot of options in recruiting for the Ramblers. 

“We get to sell that we get to travel to New York City as opposed to Des Moines, Iowa, or Terre Haute, Indiana,” Achter said. “And now you get to go to Washington, DC. So that opens up a whole lot of different recruiting windows that we didn’t have before. Just the appeal of going to major cities is something that’s really marketable.”

She later added, “So for us, [it’s about] targeting similar recruits but in a different fashion. I don’t think it necessarily changes the trajectory of our program at all. I think we’re still striving to be really competitive and we ultimately want to make postseason play. And the hope is that our experience at a high level here at the MVC transfers over to our transition in the A-10.” 

Achter understands that, while joining the A-10 opens a lot of doors, Loyola will still need to get on a plane to go to most of their road games. “It’s still a flight and right now we’re still in a pandemic,” she said. 

The change in geography is something that Achter sees as a challenge in terms of fan and parent support for the current roster. She does believe that as the roster develops and the team is able to recruit from different markets, fan and parent support will follow. 

Watson believes that the move to the A-10 will help grow the fan base. 

“It will surely engage a lot of our alumni and fans from the East Coast,” he said. “And so we’re excited about that and feel good about the support that will bring to our women’s program.” 

While not putting down the MVC, Achter expressed her excitement for the A-10’s mindset towards women’s basketball. 

“It feels really important,” Achter said. “Everything feels like it’s on a grand stage and every competition matters.”

She added, “I have always felt that the Atlantic 10 places a high value on women’s basketball. And as a women’s basketball coach, that’s something that you want your athletes to see. You want their work to be validated. And you want them to know that what they’re doing is worthwhile: the venues that you get to play in, and the way that you’re treated on the road, the crowds that you draw on the road, stuff like that. I’m very much looking forward to the basketball atmosphere in the Atlantic 10.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been covering women’s basketball since February 2019 and currently covers both the Atlantic 10 and the WNBA.

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