Loyola-Illinois matchup stokes memories of 1963 championship run for Sister Jean: ‘You just keep puffing along’

Loyola’s beloved ambassador hasn’t finished her full scouting report yet, but she has her Ramblers beating the top ranked Illinois squad and making it to the Elite Eight.

SHARE Loyola-Illinois matchup stokes memories of 1963 championship run for Sister Jean: ‘You just keep puffing along’
Sister Jean, pictured in 2019.

Sister Jean, pictured in 2019.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

After being cooped up in her downtown apartment for more than a year, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt was able to attend her first basketball game of the season on Friday.

And what it game it was.

With Loyola back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years, Sister Jean, accompanied by her right-hand man Tom Hitcho and a caregiver, got to watch her beloved Ramblers back in action in March from the stands at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

On Saturday, the team’s beloved ambassador described the opening minutes of eighth-seeded Loyola’s first-round matchup against ninth-seeded Georgia Tech as “nerve-wracking,” especially when Loyola fell into a 13-3 hole early. But the Ramblers were able to regroup and ultimately beat the Yellow Jackets 71-60 in what ended up being a “spectacular game” by Sister Jean’s standards.

“We have such a passion for the game,” Sister Jean said. “They did so well [Friday], we weren’t sure about it, but we always felt we could do it. And it’s like a little engine that could — you just keep puffing along and get relaxed.”

Next up: Top-seeded Illinois on Sunday.

The last time the in-state neighbors met in the NCAA Tournament, John F. Kennedy was president and Sister Jean was working at Mundelein College.

She doesn’t remember much of that 1963 game, but she does vividly recall the Ramblers winning the national title that year.

“As soon as we won, all the male students from Loyola... walked down Sheridan Road ... even though it was midnight, and were yelling ‘We won! We won! We won!’” she said.

Loyola coach Porter Moser and his squad have their work cut out for them this weekend. Sister Jean said she believes Loyola’s love for the game and a little prayer could help the Ramblers as they prepare to go up against one of the best teams in the country.

She said she hasn’t completed her full scouting report on the Illini yet, though she’s already started laying the foundation by watching a little film and pulling boxscores. She believes Loyola has a fighting chance given how Ohio State almost beat Illinois in the Big Ten Championship game earlier this month.

But that was all the intel Sister Jean would release ahead of the second-round matchup.

“For the rest of my information on Illinois, we might have somebody sitting in this group from there, and I don’t want to tell him my secret,” she said.

In the meantime, Sister Jean did give her prediction for the game. It’ll be a hard-fought battle, but she has Loyola edging out Illinois and heading as far as the Elite Eight.

“I believe, again, that we can do it,” Sister Jean said. “So we’ll try. We’ll try our best, and we’ll do our best.”

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