Loyola men’s volleyball is right where it was at this point last season, when it won the national championship. With a quarter of the season left, the Ramblers hold a nearly perfect 17-1 overall record and are 9-1 in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association conference.
The team has accomplished a lot this season — including the first win at Penn State University in program history — but one more thing is still on its agenda: another national championship ring.
Head Coach Shane Davis described this season’s success as a unique situation where the new freshmen in the lineup have stepped up to fill the vacancy left by last year’s graduating seniors.
“I think [we’re] probably a little bit better than expected given our [circumstances],” said Davis. “Some leadership left last year with our senior group, [but] the freshmen have had an impact.”
Davis added that redshirt sophomore Owen McAndrews, junior Thomas Jaeschke and senior Cody Caldwell have all stepped into leadership roles for the team both on and off the court, helping the freshmen transition from club to collegiate volleyball.
The Ramblers only have one blemish on their record: their 3-1 loss to Lewis University earlier this month, which knocked Loyola down to the No. 2 team in the nation.
Outside hitters Jaeschke and Caldwell both said they saw how the loss had a positive impact on the team despite the burn of losing.
“It’s hard to go a while without a loss, and I think we kind of forgot what it felt like,” said Jaeschke, a finance major from Wheaton, Illinois. “It definitely brought us back down to Earth in a sense. So I think, retrospectively, it was a good thing. But at the time nothing sucks more than losing.”
Caldwell pointed out the positive and negative effects the loss had on Loyola.
“It kind of showed us where we are at, and it kind of pointed out some of the flaws [in our playing] and what we need to work on … that really needed to happen at some point,” said the communication studies major from Newport Beach, California. “It just affected our rankings, and if we don’t beat them at their place then the postseason tournament will be held at their home and you know we want it at our place.”
Davis stressed the importance of consistency on the court and the timeliness of his team peaking at the right moment.
“Right now it’s staying somewhat consistent over a long period of time,” Davis said. “Right now we are making the easy plays look really difficult, and so I think we need to get a little bit better at routine stuff. We’re just looking forward to hitting our peak at the right time, and we know we’re not close to where we need to be by the end of the year.”
With only a month left in the regular season, Caldwell described the team’s attitude as “a little more hungry and a little more motivated” to finish its season as strong as it started.
“[It’s] just pushing each other every day and holding each other accountable so we can do the things we want,” Caldwell said. “As the season winds down you get a little more hungry and a little more fight in you.”
Jaeschke said the team is looking forward to working hard every day to continue to improve.
“[We have] the chance to get better every time [we] step into the gym,” Jaeschke said. “You have to want [to] get better and I think that’s the biggest thing for us right now. I think it is taking everything day-by-day, which is kind of hard to do sometimes … but you have to focus [on] one game at a time.”
The Ramblers will now hit the road to face Ball State University on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. in Muncle, Indiana.