Loyola unites behind basketball team’s surprising run to NCAA Elite Eight

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Loyola fans filled the campus bookstore shopping for new gear before the Ramblers’ Elite Eight appearance. | Annie Costabile

While Rambler fever is on the rise across the Chicago area, the welcome delirium has reached epidemic proportions on Loyola University campus and the surrounding Rogers Park neighborhood.

Friday afternoon, at every turn, the “Go Ramblers” slogan could be seen splashed across windows, street lamps and the sea of maroon and gold hats and sweatshirts of passersby weaving through streets near campus.

“I haven’t felt this sort of school spirit at all since being here,” Loyola sophomore Katherine Fennessey said of the by the men’s basketball team’s improbable run that has sparked a fire.

Many of the students said they could pinpoint the moment their interest went from simply supporting their school to being super fans: Donte Ingram’s three-point dagger in the Ramblers’ 64-62 win against Miami in the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament.

But for some, the increased interest started sooner. Loyola has seen a steady increase of traffic on its website since the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis — specifically, the team’s semi-final win over Bradley.

Then, after the win against Miami, Loyola saw a 30 percent increase in visits on the site. And after the team’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Nevada Thursday night, it saw a 93 percent spike in page clicks.

Loyola’s bookstore on Sheridan Road is also hot by association. Sales have more than tripled compared to this time last year.

“This is a big urban campus,” bookstore manager Mani Pillai said. “Sometimes it can feel impersonal, but the success of the team has made everyone feel like they are a part of it.”

Loyola has made it a priority to give its students every opportunity to enjoy March Madness, with watch parties at the student center — the Damen Center — for every game of the tournament. Thursday night, nearly 2,000 Rambler fans packed in to watch the win over Nevada.

An even bigger turnout is expected Saturday as the team faces Kansas State in the Elite Eight, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Loyola junior Glenda Lopez said she’ll be joined by friends at other Chicago-area schools, like DePaul University and Illinois Institute of Technology.

“They all want to come up to Loyola and watch the game here on campus,” Lopez said. “It’s really exciting the whole city is involved.”

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