By Kaleb Carter

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When looking at prospective colleges, Mascoutah incoming senior Sophia Loden told her high school coach about her excitement in soon-to-be Division I University of Southern Indiana.

Mascoutah girls coach Frank Evans took that sentiment to heart and made a move that will long endear him to Loden. Evans got Mascoutah into the Southern Indiana women’s basketball team’s summer camp this summer.  

“[It] a lot of fun and I feel like I connected with the players there,” Loden said. 

The 5-11 multi-position player — Loden plays more of a post-role for Mascoutah, but figures to play more on the perimeter in college — made the visit a productive one, and chose to come back for a second visit that also went well. She played six games over two days in the team camp visit, which presented a chance for her to play in front of college coaches. 

“My official visit was amazing,” Loden said. “The facilities are incredible but the culture that coach Rick Stein has created is unmatched. All of the girls on the team introduced themselves to me and my family. It’s just not something you see at every college. Everyone there made me feel really welcome.

“The practice that I attended was very competitive, but the players were also extremely positive with each other,” she added. “I wanted to put my shoes on and jump in there with them. It just felt right when I was there.

USI women's basketball has landed a commitment from 2023 wing Sophia Loden (Mascoutah HS, Ill.)

Averaged 22.7 points as a junior and also led her team in rebounding (12.5 rpg) and steals (112 total).

— Hendrix Magley (@TweetsOfHendrix) August 4, 2022

Loden cited COVID-19 as having interrupted what could have been a potentially busy early recruiting process. As a freshman, she averaged just under 10 points per game for a Mascoutah squad that had just one senior and claimed five victories. She averaged 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds as a sophomore. 

“I had my sophomore high school season cut in half, and coaches couldn’t really come watch AAU games,” Loden said. “During this time, I reached out to as many coaches as I could and would send them game film and highlights. Once COVID restrictions allowed fans at games, I went to as many games as I could. I also attended Elite Camps for the schools I was interested in, so the coaches could see me on their campus, and we could interact with each other. I think the biggest thing I did was really try to communicate with coaches.”

This past season, Loden easily averaged a double-double (22.7 points, 12.2 rebounds), and led her team in scoring, rebounding and steals as the program went 16-15 in Evans’ third year coaching the team in his current stint. (He also coached Mascoutah from 2005-08.) 

Evans said that Loden has improved immensely her mentality since he started watching her in her freshman season before taking over as coach. 

“Her mental midset and maturity has changed,” Evans said. “She has become more and more unselfish.”

As things have changed for the better, Evans says Loden has realized how her attitude has begun to pay off. With future D-I pole vaulter Katie Schneider and multi-sport athlete Bella Hart making up a stellar senior trio for Mascoutah, the program expects the positive upward trend to continue.

“I think it was a matter of her teammates and her coming together and her teammates showing, ‘Hey, we’ve got a few kids who can shoot the three pretty well,’ and they score in transition pretty well,” Evans said. 

Over time, Evans cited Loden’s ball-handling in transition and her passing as improved facets of her game. She’s also played volleyball and even tried her hand at golf. 

“Coaching kids like Sophie make’s it fun,” Evans said. “She has a motor that never stops. I take her out of the game for a breather, but she hardly ever asks to come out. She goes end to end as fast as she can. She plays defense as hard as she can.”

She has also become stronger and better at shot selection. Both she and Evans cited Mascoutah’s strength program for that. 

“Mascoutah has a really good weight training program,” Loden said. “Our strength coach ran workouts three days a week throughout summer.”

“Skill training wise, I’ve continued to work out with Coach Denney, but also making sure I train a few times a week with Dave Ruckman (a trainer here in the metro east),” Loden said. “I credit both of them for making me a much more confident player over the past year.

A notable record could be broken this season: Bec Harris’ career 1,724 points is within reach. The rising senior scored 703 last season and has 1,068 points for her career, per statistics. 

Other Illinois women on the other Southern Indiana roster from Illinois include Ashley Hunter, a fifth-year player who played at Homewood-Flossmoor, Neuqua Valley graduate Claudia Gallegos and Ramsey Hasewinkle, an honorary team member, from Albion. 

Upon arrival, Loden will be joining a program in-transition from NCAA D-II to D-I. 

“The players and coaches are already up to the challenge of the OVC (Ohio Valley Conference),” Loden said. “While I was at camp, I asked the players how they felt about not being able to compete in the NCAA tournament, and while they were naturally disappointed about the four-year transition, they have set goals to make the NIT in the meantime. Every player and coach told me repeatedly that at USI, we expect to contend for the OVC year-in and year-out.”

With school right around the corner, Loden says she is considering stuyding engineering.

USI women's basketball has landed a commitment from 2023 wing Sophia Loden (Mascoutah HS, Ill.)

Averaged 22.7 points as a junior and also led her team in rebounding (12.5 rpg) and steals (112 total).

— Hendrix Magley (@TweetsOfHendrix) August 4, 2022

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