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Sister Jean hopes Loyola will make a comeback ‘to the very top’ of NCAA Tournament

Three years after the Loyola Ramblers’ Final Four run in 2018, the team’s 101-year-old chaplain believes they could go all the way.

Sister Jean sits in her wheelchair wearing a striped scarf that sports Loyola’s school colors, maroon and gold. Due to the pandemic, Sister Jean said she has had to turn on her radio to listen to play-by-plays of the Ramblers’ games for most of the season.
Due to the pandemic, Sister Jean said she has had to turn on her radio to listen to play-by-plays of the Ramblers’ games for most of the season.
Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

In the days between NCAA Tournament games, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt’s schedule is full.

“I have to get up early in the morning to do what I have to do,” she said. “Besides doing my work for Loyola, I’m doing my work for the basketball team. I write the team so many emails while they’re ... quarantined in the hotel.”

As the 101-year-old chaplain for the Loyola men’s basketball team, Sister Jean said she writes the team an email before and after every game, explaining what players can expect and detailing some areas to improve upon.

Sister Jean said Loyola’s team that made it to the Final Four in 2018 and the school’s present team are more alike than they are different, as both demonstrated the same energy and great teamwork.

“When they do plays, they keep passing the ball to the person they think will make the basket,” Sister Jean said. “They don’t care who makes the points as long as the basket is made.”

The 8th-seeded Ramblers play 12th-seeded Oregon State in a Midwest Region Sweet 16 game Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis. The tournament is being played in Indiana.

Three years ago, Sister Jean predicted the Ramblers would make it to the Sweet 16, and the team broke her bracket with a Final Four run.

“This time, I thought, ‘I’m going to have them go to the Elite Eight, and then maybe they’ll push a little harder,’” Sister Jean said. “Maybe we’ll get up to the very top to play that game. [The team] accept challenges. Sometimes we play a better game when the school is a real challenge to us.”

Sister Jean said she has waited for another NCAA win for Loyola since 1963 and is excited for the team to excel whether that means they get to the Final Four again or go further.

“I told them, ‘We can do it, so let’s push,’” Sister Jean said.

During the season, Sister Jean said she has had to turn on her radio for play-by-plays of the games since her apartment doesn’t have the right channels to watch the matches.

While she gained expertise in analyzing just by listening, Sister Jean said she has missed seeing the Ramblers on the court.

“The last two games at Indianapolis have been a real thrill for me, because I’ve seen that they’ve grown a lot since I’ve last seen them face-to-face,” Sister Jean said. “They play faster, play better, play with precision and have a great defense.”

Currently, there is only one Big Ten team, the Michigan Wolverines, left in the NCAA, and Sister Jean said they will likely make their way through the bracket. So far, though, Sister Jean said the Ramblers have held their own on the court and will need to get points early on so they don’t lag behind.

“Bracketologists watch games endlessly, and they watch the plays, but they really don’t know the teams,” Sister Jean said. “I know my team. That’s why I put such faith and trust in them and what they’re capable of doing.”

Sister Jean said she will pray for no injuries on either team, and that this year there is no need to pray for the referees, as, so far, they are making good calls.

“I will ask our God to bless [the players’] hands, to make those balls go into the baskets,” Sister Jean said. “And not to turn over the ball and make too many fouls. Then I say, ‘Amen, God bless you and go Ramblers!’”