Clay grad Achter turns around Loyola cage program

Mark Griffin

This is why Kate Achter spent five years on the women’s basketball coaching staff at St. Bonaventure University, and why she spent the 2015-16 season as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Xavier University. This was her opportunity and she jumped.
Achter, a 2004 Clay graduate and the all-time assists leader at Bowling Green State University, is now in her fourth season as head coach of the Loyola University Chicago women’s basketball team, which competes in the Missouri Valley Conference. Heading into Christmas break, the Ramblers were 8-0 and looked nothing like Achter’s first Loyola team, which finished 2-28 during the 2016-17 season.
“I was a first-year head coach, with 10 players who had no Division I experience,” recalled Achter, 33. “We returned two players, and combined we returned 78 total points from the previous year. I didn’t have any freshmen. We got three junior college transfers who didn’t come from a high-level junior college, and we honored the scholarships the previous staff had (offered). We had three junior college players we knew nothing about. We allowed one player to come back to the team that the previous staff had kicked off the team.”
Achter explained that she knew full well what she was walking into when she accepted the Loyola job.
“You had to be living under a rock to not know what was going on,” she said. “I took this job for a couple of reasons. One, I trusted the administration. I worked with the current AD, Steve Watson, who was an assistant at St. Bonaventure. I knew he was a basketball guy and he knew everything we had to sell as a program.
“Second, I saw that I could sell Loyola. The academics are world class and the campus feels like a midwestern campus, with trees and grass. It doesn’t feel like downtown Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was similar to Bowling Green.”
Achter got the Ramblers to seven victories in her second season and 13 wins last year. She said her five-year contract wasn’t so much about counting wins and losses. The goal was to return respect to a once proud program.
“If we could just build a locker room culture that could be a tight-knit group, wins and losses would take care of themselves,” Achter said, adding that she used a blueprint from Curt Miller, her coach at BGSU, to map the program’s future.
“I made goals that didn’t necessary address wins and losses, but recruiting high-character kids and staff,” she said. “And, it was little things like talking to the girls about investment and what it’s like to be a winning program. For the most part, sitting here in year four, we are ahead of schedule with some things I outlined in a five-year plan.”
Achter said her internal clock told her she was ready to run her own program. She leaned on her former head coach at St. Bonaventure, Jim Crowley, for advice. Crowley is now the head coach at Providence (R.I.) College.
“He’d been telling me I was ready to lead a program,” Achter said. “He wanted me to branch out from him and take a job elsewhere, and I went to Xavier. I wasn’t really seeking out the job here, it came to me. They called me. When it came open, at age 30, I thought, ‘I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.’ ”
The last three-plus years at Loyola have been a roller coaster, Achter said, “in every way you could possibly imagine - and ways you couldn’t imagine.” She said one of her most difficult challenges is dealing with the athletes’ perception of instant gratification. Achter said it can be difficult to get young players to believe in the process, that hard work is worthwhile and will pay off in the end.
“I have a group right now that believes in me and has that work ethic, and that’s really hard to find,” Achter said. “We are pushing our players to trust that we are doing the right thing, and that their 30-something head coach knows what she’s talking about.”
Achter said she and her staff recruit northwest Ohio as often as they can. This year’s team has four players from Ohio, including freshman guard Jala Johnson from Notre Dame Academy, who is averaging 6.4 points a game.
“Sitting here at 8-0, a lot of people don’t believe that we belong,” Achter said. “I love that. I love to sell that to the kids. I recruited them because they are chip-on-their-shoulder kids, like I was. I also like that they are a bunch of underdogs. I have one senior and she has been though it all with me, and I have juniors who have lost a lot (of games). They care about each other, they share the ball, they play hard for one another. They know they’re not perfect, but they love each other and accept each other for who they are.”
Loyola’s campus is located about seven miles north of downtown Chicago, and Achter said she feels right at home.
“I really like it,” she said. “Every time I drive back into downtown or fly into Chicago I think, man, I can’t believe I get to live here. It’s just a wild city, and I mean that in the best way possible. There is something to do every night. You have Lake Michigan, all the parks, a vibrant architecture scene. It’s a really enjoyable place to live.”
Achter was busy recruiting this past week and said she planned to visit her family in Oregon on Dec. 21, five days after the Ramblers host her alma mater, BGSU. The Falcons defeated Loyola, 88-74, at the Stroh Center last season.
“We didn’t quite defend the paint like I wanted to,” Achter said of last year’s game. “It was emotional coming back. I have so much time and blood, sweat and tears invested in that program.”


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