Dan Carpenter said he wasn’t sure if the roster he assembled for the girls sophomore team the 2016-17 season would work.
It took some time, but the players ended up fitting in together nicely as the Ramblers finished 25-4 and captured the GCAC tournament title. The team won 16 of its last 17 games, including a 4-0 record at the conference tournament as the third seed.
“It was a diverse group,” said Carpenter, who completed his ninth season as head coach. “We had one player who played with us as a freshman, then a sophomore group who played together as freshmen and we brought up three freshmen to the team.
“But by the end of the season, we were really clicking. If we played our best, nobody could beat us.”
Carpenter said this was the fastest team he’s had at Loyola. The speed benefitted the Ramblers on both ends of the floor.
“Defensively, we gave teams real problems,” he said. “We could press and really pressure the ball. We could fast break. And we were deep. I could sub in any player, and we could keep up relentless pressure.”
A two-year veteran of the sophomore team, guard Lorelei Jaeger was one of the fastest and quickest players on the Ramblers. She was Loyola’s most dynamic offensive player, according to Carpenter.
“She had the ability to attack the basket, and she also was a good outside shooter,” he said. “If you gave her space, she would shoot it. If you got up on her, she could get past any defender. She was hard to guard.”
Other offensive standouts included sophomore Ellen Naughton and freshman Alex Guzzardo, both of whom shared point guard responsibilities.
“They ran the show well and made good decisions,” Carpenter said. “They helped set the tone.”
On a team loaded with guards, sophomore forward Karina Lechuga provided a post presence for the Ramblers, Carpenter said. She also was one of four captains, sharing the leadership role with sophomore guard Ellen Naugton, sophomore center Jordan Moser and sophomore guard Addison Bendrey.
“Karina wasn’t that vocal, but she quietly set an example for the other players with her hard work,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter considered Bendery and her freshman sister Riley Bendery, also a guard, the team’s defensive specialists. Riley led the team in charges taken.
“They were able to lock down the other team’s best players,” Carpenter said. “Both are so fast and quick. They really could bother players.”
According to Carpenter, Riley and Guzzardo were two of the team’s most improved players.
“They were playing basketball in eighth grade a year ago, and that’s a big jump for a lot of players,” he said. “They had their struggles, but they didn’t let the mistakes get to them. They had positive attitudes and unbelievable work ethics. They made tremendous strides, and that’s a credit to them.”