Loyola head coach Porter Moser’s journey from a Benet student to a household name

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The date is March 31, 2018. The Loyola Ramblers basketball team is entering its biggest game in 55 years: a Final Four matchup against the Michigan Wolverines with a championship opportunity on the line.

Ramblers head coach Porter Moser enters the arena. Donned in his signature plaid suit coat, a blue collared shirt, and a red tie, he knows that this is the biggest game of his career. However, he’s not afraid.

How did Moser get here? How did he change from a boy from the Chicago suburbs to the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year?

His story begins on August 24, 1968, when he was born in Naperville, Illinois. He attended Sts. Peter and Paul in Naperville and Benet Academy, where he starred on the basketball team. Moser states that the friendships that he made at Benet carry on into his daily life.

“The closeness of the community,” he tells the Benet Herald, “we were a very close-knit group of friends. A bunch of them flew down, we had a huge group of Benet friends who came down to the Final Four to support me, which was really cool.”

A three-time all-conference selection, Moser’s high school career ended by being named most valuable player of the West Suburban Catholic Conference.

“The basketball [part of Benet] was a huge influence on my life. The culture of Benet basketball – and it still is, under Coach [Gene] Heidkamp – was about winning. It was about team play. It was about the name on the front of your jersey, not the name on the back.”

Moser played for Benet during their home game winning streak of 107 games. It started on November 26, 1975, and lasted for nearly 12 years. Facing the Redwings in the alumni gym became a nightmare for opponents.

“To be a part of that [streak] was big…” Moser says. “ Every game was a packed house back then.”

Moser graduated from Benet in 1986 and played basketball at Creighton University. There, he played in 107 games over four years. When he graduated, he became an assistant for head coach Tony Barone. He followed Barone to Texas A&M, where he would become an assistant coach. He then coached at Milwaukee, Texas A&M again, and Arkansas Little-Rock, where he eventually became the head coach. Moser finished his three-year tenure as the team’s coach with a 54-34 total record.

In 2003, he became Illinois State’s head coach, where he coached for four seasons. He became an assistant at Saint Louis University for four seasons before becoming Loyola’s head coach. Moser’s tenure started off rough, as the Ramblers experienced losing seasons in his first three years with the team. In 2015, though, he led them to a win in the College Basketball Invitational tournament.

Loyola started off the 2017 season on a hot streak, including a win over the then-No. 5 Florida Gators. They finished the regular season with a 25-5 record. They entered the Missouri Valley Tournament having won 14 of their last 15 games and ended up winning the tournament, securing a spot in March Madness.

Drawing the No. 11 seed in the South Region, Loyola was an underdog in every game it played. In the first round, they faced the No. 6 Miami Hurricanes and overcame the odds to win 64-62.

The momentum from the upset win carried on. Loyola faced the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers in the second round and won 63-62. They then advanced to face the No. 10 Nevada Wolf Pack in the Sweet 16 and won 69-68.

The Ramblers then took on the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats in the Elite 8 and won 78-62. Despite having the odds against them, the Ramblers had made it to the Final Four.

In the Alamodome, 68,257 fans fill the stands, one of them being Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. The 98-year-old team chaplain had accrued fame during the tournament. She looks on, proud of Loyola’s young men, hoping that they can overcome the odds yet again.

“She’s been a comfort blanket through everything we’ve done.” Moser says about the nonagenarian nun. “It’s not only our team; it’s our whole student body. Her role was just one of support.”

The Ramblers start off on a high note, exiting the first half with a 29-22 lead. However, Michigan gets on an 11-0 run in the second half. That run ends up being too much for Loyola to overcome, causing their Cinderella run to strike midnight with a 69-57 loss.

“There was a lot of emotion in the locker room [after the loss].” Moser says. “The first one was disappointment. Not a lot of people might have thought that we were going to play in the national championship on Monday night, but our locker room did.”

What’s next for the Ramblers? Moser is currently traveling the country recruiting players for next season. He will have his work cut out for him, as several key contributors will be graduating this summer. However, Moser is confident that the remaining teammates will be able to step up.

As for Moser himself, he aims to keep being persistent.

“In [coaching] or in any profession,” he says, “from a young age to an old age, you’re going to go through adversity. You’re going to go through tough spots, through bumps in your road. My message to coaches and other people in life…you can learn more from your adversity or from your failures than you do from your successes.”

“There’s been a ton of bumps in my journey, but faith – and that’s one thing I take from Benet – [gets me] through those adverse times. I’ve learned so much more from my failures and my setbacks than I have from my successes.”

Throughout his life, Coach Moser has maintained the “work and pray” credo that Benet preaches to its students. He is living proof that, if we keep faith and work at our goals, then our dreams can come true.

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