Loyola alum Olga Gvozdenovic building basketball empire: Growing up, tennis was Olga Gvozdenovic’s sport of choice. After all, it’s how her parents met each other. Naturally, she started playing tennis at a young age and quickly rose to an elite level.
Gvozdenovic (Class of 1999) later picked up basketball, and now the sport is paying her bills as an adult.
In 2013, she founded Vika Chicago, which now is OMG Basketball Academy, with the mission of teaching girls the fundamentals of the game and empowering them with the confidence necessary to navigate life’s obstacles.
“OMG goes back to my athletic roots,” she said. “I played with a purpose, and I took advantage of every moment.”
Introduced to basketball as a middle-schooler at Maple in Northbrook, Gvozdenovic went on to a Hall of Fame career at Loyola, where she was a three-time all-state selection and led the Ramblers to two Class AA state titles.
Remarkably, Gvozdenovic also starred as a tennis player in high school, taking third place in singles at the state tournament as both a junior and senior.
Gvozdenovic took her talents to Duke University, where she played both basketball and tennis.
“I had a passion for tennis and basketball, and I thought I owed it to myself to try playing both,” said Gvozdenovic, a fan of Bo Jackson, one of the most accomplished two-sport athletes. “I knew I had the ability to do it.”
Her experience at Loyola was impactful, according to Gvozdenovic. The school went co-ed in 1994, and her senior class was the first to attend all four years.
“It brought me to a group of women I might not have ever known and allowed us to make our own space,” she said. “I learned a lot of lessons about life, about socialization and communication. I learned we are men and women for others.”
For as long as she can remember, Gvozdenovic said she wanted to start a business with the goal of providing girls the platform to play basketball without the burden of being self-conscious about themselves. What’s more, OMG’s staff is all women. Former Loyola basketball player Adie Morrill (Class of 2018) is a coach in training at OMG.
“I’ve been outspoken and loud about the benefits of girls in sports, and it’s omething I’ve always pushed for,” Gvozdenovic said. “Sports allowed me to find my own voice. When I started OMG, I did it with that in mind.”
Even as she looks forward to her future, Loyola graduate Katherine Eilers struggles to let go of her past: The last competitive lacrosse game Katherine Eilers (Class of 2013) played was nearly two years ago. It ended an enviable career that included four state championships at Loyola and four NCAA tournament appearances at Notre Dame. She served as a captain for both the Ramblers and Fighting Irish.
A Notre Dame legacy, Eilers (pictured above) played in 77 games, starting 41, over four seasons. With the Ramblers, she was a two-time All-American and three-time all-state selection.
Eilers now lives in New York City and works at Morgan Stanley, where she specializes in capital markets. Recently, she reunited with former Loyola lacrosse teammates and 2013 graduates Hope DiPaolo, Shannon Jacobs and Tierney Stein in New York City.
Admittedly, Eilers misses playing the sport she loves.
“The camaraderie of the team, waking up Saturday and having a morning practice and then going to lunch with my teammates and planning the rest of our day,” Eilers said.
Eilers said her experience at Loyola, notably playing lacrosse, contributed to her development as a person. She signaled out John Dwyer, the school’s girls lacrosse head coach and a 1967 graduate, as a major influence in her life.
“He’s the embodiment of Loyola,” Eilers said. “He pushes you in a positive way. He wants to make you better. He works extra hard to get you where you want to go.”
A Winnetka native and graduate of Faith, Hope and Charity, Eilers and her three siblings are the first generation to attend Loyola. Her parents, Pat and Jana, grew up in Minnesota.
Pat played football at Notre Dame and was a member of the 1988 national title team. He then spent six years in the NFL, including one with the Chicago Bears.
As a way to stay connected to the sport, Katherine said she plans to volunteer with Greenwich Youth Lacrosse for the second year in a row this spring.
Photo credit: University of Notre Dame