It’s been three years since Loyola-Chicago became the talk of March Madness. The Ramblers were the darlings of the 2018 NCAA Tournament as they reached the Final Four. Combine that on-court success with their biggest fan and America’s favorite nun, Sister Jean, and the Ramblers were quite a hit. The Ramblers are back in 2021 and so is Sister Jean, at 101 years old.
Loyola’s Cinderella run of 2018
The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers had many more fans at the end of the 2018 NCAA tourney than they started with. Loyola entered March Madness as a relatively unknown school and left as the tournament’s biggest Cinderella story. The Ramblers were seeded 11th and tested the blood pressure of their true fans from the get-go.
In the opening round, Loyola faced a sixth-seeded Miami team that nearly sent the Ramblers packing. Loyola wound up pulling out a 64-62 in a game that wound up becoming the least stressful of the Ramblers’ first three games in the tourney. Loyola won its next two games by a point, defeating third-seeded Tennessee 63-62 and then knocking off Nevada (No. 7) 69-68.
Loyola made its way to the Elite Eight and faced Kansas State. The Ramblers finally had some breathing room as they pulled away and earned a 78-62 victory, earning the South Region title and an improbable berth in the Final Four. The run ended when Michigan handed Loyola a 69-57 loss.
Sister Jean became a star during the March Madness run in 2018
With every Loyola-Chicago victory, the popularity of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt grew. Sister Jean became a household name during Loyola’s March Madness run in 2018. Sister Jean was a then-98-year-old nun who served as the chaplain of the men’s basketball team. She was also their biggest supporter.
Sister Jean merchandise, including t-shirts and bobbleheads, were sold (and sold quickly) throughout the country. She was an instant legend – a fan favorite. The Ramblers are back in the NCAA tourney this year and Sister Jean is 101. Things have changed. Sister Jean was always hugging players and attending practices during the 2018 run. COVID-19 restrictions are forcing Sister Jean to keep her distance from the players, although she always finds a way to stay in touch.
Instead of seeing the players personally before each game now, she sends them an email. She gives them a blunt review of their performance from the previous game. “Then there’s a little note at the bottom, particular personal note for each one, whether he has done well—or whether he needs to take his turn and do well,” she said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Or if he hasn’t been on the court, I always ask them for their support.”
Sister Jean and Loyola are built for March Madness
Sister Jean was given the OK to travel to Indianapolis during the pandemic to get an up-close view of her Loyola team during March Madness. She was “just a baby” when the 1918 flu pandemic ended. She’s in the middle of her second pandemic and ready for her second go-round of March Madness.
Sister Jean, head coach Porter Moser, and the player are all very close. Moser turned down bigger jobs and more money after the 2018 run so he could stay with Loyola and the close-knit group. “They believe in each other,” Sister Jean said in The Wall Street Journal. At 101, Sister Jean is headed to Indianapolis to see that tight-knit group. She was determined to get there even during the pandemic.
Sister Jean is tough and the Ramblers follow suit. They finished the season 24-4 and were crowned Missouri Valley Conference champs. They are better than the 2018 team. The Ramblers are built on a defense that’s tops in the nation and they’ll control the pace of the game. Loyola won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around. They are built for March Madness and so is Sister Jean.