Loyola's Achter turning women's basketball program around
The apple really doesn't fall far in Kate Achter's family.
Grandpa coached girls basketball.
Dad did, too.
So did auntie.
Then, Achter joined the family business.
"I come from a family of coaches," Achter said. "I grew up in the gym. I knew pretty early that I had the bug to be a coach."
Achter, though, has reached new heights.
Grandpa Andrew, dad Roger and aunt Kathy were all high school girls coaches. In fact, Roger coached Kate, a point guard, during her very successful high school career in Ohio that yielded a scholarship to Bowling Green.
Achter went a step further and took her coaching instincts to the college game, as an assistant coach at St. Bonaventure and Xavier, and now she's climbing fast as the head coach at Loyola.
In one of their best starts in program history, the Ramblers ran out to a 9-0 record before allowing No. 16 DePaul to escape with a hard-fought 83-76 win Dec. 20 at Gentile Arena.
After Friday's win over Evansville, the Ramblers are 11-3 and optimistic they can contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title in March.
It's a far cry from where Loyola was when Achter's tenure began.
Four years ago, Achter accepted her first head coaching job and took over a Loyola program that was reeling from a mutiny that happened under previous head coach Sheryl Swoopes.
Most of the players on the team either quit or transferred after allegations of player mistreatment surfaced. Swoopes was then fired.
When the dust settled and Achter took over, two players from the previous regime remained. A third eventually came back. Everyone else was brought in at the eleventh hour.
The Ramblers won two games that first season.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have thoughts back then of, 'What did I get myself into,'" Achter said with a chuckle. "But I knew I didn't need to panic. I had a great staff around me and I knew we were trying to do things the right way. I got hired in August so it was late. I knew it was going to be hard to win that first year with players who didn't really know me or trust me. We didn't have time to build that. I knew that would take some time.
"I learned a lot about myself. I knew that when things got tough, if you blame others instead of finding a solution, you won't be in this business long. I looked for solutions. I tried to recruit kids who fit with what we believed in. I knew that if anyone could flip the program, it would be me."
Achter has put a heavy emphasis on teaching the fundamentals to start the turnaround. Back to basics.
"We took player development to a whole other level," Achter said. "We told recruits that 'when you come to Loyola, you will get better,'" Achter said. "We work on everything. Jump stops. Pivots. It's a top-down mindset that has gotten our players better and it's made our program better."
And now, Loyola is seriously competing with nationally ranked programs like DePaul. The Ramblers had DePaul on the ropes throughout that game back in December, even late.
"I'm really proud of the product we've put on the floor and of the way we've played some really tough teams," Achter said. "Our start this year has been really good too. It's all been pretty exciting because we haven't experienced this much over the last three years."
Achter has drawn on her lifelong experiences with coaching to get her through the tough times. She's also found a healthy perspective from her newest joy, her 7-month old daughter Reese, who has Down syndrome.
"I don't know if I'd say I'm softer but I'd say I'm a more sympathetic coach since Reese was born," Achter said. "When the kids can't quite get it right (on the court), it pushes me to explore it deeper.
"Reese has also changed the way I spend my time. When I get home, she gets all my time. And then when she goes to bed, it's all the basketball stuff again, like film and preparing. I also take her with me to practice, like my dad did with me."
Achter and her three younger siblings spent most days after school at their dad's practices.
"We'd pick up everyone at school and then head to dad's practices and then we'd run around the gym for three hours," Achter said. "As I got older, I would go scouting with my dad. I'd ride the team bus. I saw how my dad got the most of his players. I saw how much he loved it. I knew way back then that I had to be a coach, too."
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