Loyola’s Prospects for A10 Fall Team Sports

The schedules are starting to come out for the fall sports in the Atlantic 10, and Loyola fans who are interested in women’s soccer, men’s soccer, and women’s volleyball are wondering where the Ramblers  fit into our new conference.  So here’s a primer on the level of competition in each sport, where Loyola fits, and the teams to look at as benchmarks for the conference in each sport.

Women’s Soccer

The level of competition between the A-10 and MVC was very similar last year.  The Atlantic 10’s average women’s soccer team had an RPI of 212, and the median was 223.  In the MVC, it was 216 and 221.  But the thing is, Loyola had the best RPI of any women’s soccer team in either of the two conferences, at 46.  There were no other teams in the MVC with an RPI in the top 175. 

In the A-10, only VCU (55) and St. Louis (85) were in the Top 100, but Dayton and UMass were in the top 175.  Going by last year’s numbers, the MVC’s average RPI without Loyola was 237, and the A-10’s average with Loyola added in was 201.  So the Ramblers (who won the MVC four years in a row) joining the A-10 will likely vault the A-10 somewhat clearly above the MVC, and give the Ramblers additional opportunities to build an at-large resume with matches against some top 100 teams.

Under Coach Barry Bimbi, the Ramblers have something pretty good going– four straight years winning the MVC regular season and conference tournament.  Four straight years in the NCAA Tournament, but a lot of tough first round matchups.  In 2021, Loyola (with its regular season and conference tournament championship) got Purdue as a first round matchup and lost.  Saint Louis– with their 85 RPI, second place conference record, and conference tournament win– got Ole Miss as their first round opponent and beat them to advance.

Loyola will be right in the mix to win the A-10 next season, but they’ll still probably have to win the conference tournament to get to the NCAA tournament.  Scheduling, a really good season, and some lucky breaks there and here just might be able to give the league more than one bid in women’s soccer.  Saint Louis, LaSalle, and Dayton are the teams that have done the most damage the past several seasons.

Men’s Soccer

The level of men’s soccer in the Atlantic 10 is substantially higher than the competition in the MVC.  A lot of it is due to the fact that Saint Louis is the UCLA of men’s soccer.  Saint Louis has won 10 NCAA National Championships in men’s soccer, and reached the Final Four 16 times since the tournament started in 1959.  For comparison, UCLA….. the school that is supposed to do the best in sports like this because of history, location, economics, demographics in the LA area, and other factors…. has only reached the Final Four 14 times, but came away with only four titles. 

To be fair, Saint Louis hasn’t won any title as a member of the A-10, but they benefit from the legacy of a soccer culture (one of the first soccer hotbeds in the US) in the early days of the sport’s foothold in the US.  Last year, Saint Louis had an RPI of 12, which earned them a bye and the 10th highest seed in the 48-team tournament (only the top 16 teams are seeded).  The school has supported the program consistently and set high standards through the years. 

But it’s not entirely a Saint Louis story… URI (38), VCU (48), St. Joseph’s (57), Fordham (75), UMass (79), Duquesne (82),  and Davidson (86), all finished better in 2021 than Loyola’s RPI of 99.  The MVC was led last year by Missouri State’s best team in memory, one of the best in the recent history of the MVC, who had a national ranking and an RPI of 21.  

The Ramblers are taking a big step up in competition here, with almost half the teams in the league in the top 100. And with a new coach on the men’s soccer side, it will probably take a few years to challenge for the top spots in the league. 

Something to watch out for– several schools with financial pressures have dropped men’s soccer recently.  One of these schools (although not at all with financial problems) is Richmond.  It seems a shame that one of the highest endowment schools (with a high-achieving conference rival nearby) would end up dropping men’s soccer, but that’s what maintaining football will do to an athletic program.  There are 208 men’s soccer programs at the D1 level.

Women’s Volleyball

This was a big surprise to me– women’s volleyball is not nearly as big a college sport in the Northeast  as it is in the Midwest.  At some Big 10, Big 12, and selected other schools, women’s volleyball is a genuine revenue sport.  In 2018, ten schools averaged over 3,000 fans per match, and four schools averaged over 5,000. In 2018, both UNI and Wichita State drew more than 2500 per match to watch women’s volleyball (sometimes against Loyola).

The MVC had all 10 of their schools participating in women’s volleyball last season, but the Atlantic 10 had only nine of their 14 schools putting teams on the court.  UMass, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and Richmond don’t have women’s volleyball at all.  And some of the A-10 schools don’t put much effort into it.  Dayton and VCU have dominated women’s volleyball in the A-10 for the past ten years.   Last year, Dayton (37) was the only A-10 team to make the top 100 in RPI.   VCU (109) and St. Louis (189) were the only other schools in the top 200.

For comparison’s sake, the MVC had three teams in the top 100:  Valpo (46), Illinois State (64) and Loyola (65).  But more significantly, the MVC had eight of their ten women’s volleyball squads come in with a better RPI than the third best A-10 team.  Overall, the A-10 teams had an average RPI of 218, and a median RPI of 262.  The MVC’s average was 128 and their median was 118.  Over the past several years, the MVC has had multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament.

Loyola has been on the rise in women’s volleyball for the past several years, and benefitted a bit last year from the rebuilding at UNI.  The higher level of competition from the Horizon League to the MVC has kept Loyola back in women’s volleyball, but also because of the competition the program has finally fought its way into a Top 100 position. Loyola might finish in the top 3 in the A-10 this year, even with it being Loyola’s first year in the league.