Loyola Academy girls basketball completed a remarkable season in 2021, winning 19 games versus 2 losses to earn a conference title in a COVID-shortened season.
Five college-bound seniors graduated that team, leaving plenty of youth and inexperience behind for the 2021-’22 Ramblers.
“Coming into the season, no one really knew how we were going to be,” said Angelina Giordano, one of the only players from last year’s rotation. “It was said to be a rebuilding season. We took our underdog position and just ran with it.”
Loyola ran further than all but seven other teams in IHSA Class 3A, racking up 31 wins before falling to Stevenson 36-32 in the Hersey Super-Sectional Monday, Feb. 28, in Arlington Heights.
It was the program’s best finish playoff run 2012 and its most wins in coach Jeremy Schoenecker’s 14-year Loyola tenure.
“These girls are fantastic,” he said. “As we told them, if we would have told them they’d be in the supersectional against Stevenson … would they take it? They said yea. We knew we were a good team, but we knew we had a lot of work to do. We only played six or seven girls all year long and this group really fought each and every night. That’s all we can ask for.”
The Ramblers fought to the final whistle again Monday night, but found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard for only the fourth time this season.
Stevenson took control late with a couple early fourth-quarter baskets to go up 31-26, but Loyola’s defense would not give up another bucket for the final five minutes.
A pair of Giordano threes cut into the Patriots’ lead twice, but Stevenson knocked down 5 of 7 free throws in the final period. The Ramblers converted 0 of 4 free-throw attempts and misfired on a handful of open field goals in the quarter.
“It all came down to execution at the end of day,” Giordano said. “We just weren’t hitting our open shots today. It was a close game. We gave it all we could have.”
Significantly outsized once again, Loyola used its opportunistic defense and transition offense to jump out to a 10-4 lead on Stevenson.
A buzzer-beating three by Ava Bardic at the end of the first quarter cut into the Ramblers’ lead, and the Patriots trimmed one more point by halftime, which saw Loyola up 24-22.
In the first half, Loyola sophomore Paige Engels scored nine of her team-high 13 points, while Nora Stanton added 5 of her 8 points in the half.
The teams played even in the third quarter. That is until Patriots standout Simone Sawyer bounced in a three to end the period and give her team a 27-26 lead it never relinquished.
“They hit one at the end of the first quarter; that one hurt. And then the one at the end of the third quarter,” Schoenecker said. “Giving up six points at the end of quarters is not good.”
Loyola’s defense and Giordano’s three second-half threes kept the Ramblers alive, but missed shots loomed large and were mostly secured by Stevenson and sophomore Emory Klatt, who finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Free throws from Bardic sealed the deal for the Patriots, who will join Benet Academy, Barrington and Bolingbrook in the Class 3A state finals Friday-Saturday, March 4-5, at Redbird Arena in Bloomington.
For the Ramblers, Paige Engels led the way with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and a block.
This season, Engels was one of three sophomore rotation players, along with starting point guard Kelsey Langston and reserve sharpshooter Morgan Bruno. Starters Giordano, Stanton and Morgan Van Horn graduate, as do five other seniors.
“Hats off to this group,” Schoenecker said. “They believed in the coaching staff; we believed in them as players. They worked super well together.
“As we talk to the underclassmen now, they see what it truly takes to get back here. … So we have a good starting point. We just have to try to fix the pieces again for next year.”