Seven games into the regular season, the Loyola men’s volleyball team appears to be returning to its dominant self.
After dropping the first two games of the regular season to Brigham Young University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, the team has rolled off five straight victories — sweeping the last four matches and now ranking No. 4 nationally.
Sophomore Jeff Jendryk has already picked up a MIVA defensive player of the week accolade on Jan. 19. The middle blocker from Wheaton, Illinois, leads the team with an average 1.24 blocks per set. The team has the fourth highest blocks per set average nationally with 2.84.
Offensively, sophomore opposite Ricky Gevis leads the way with 3.41 kills per set. The Naperville, Illinois, native is quickly becoming a focal point of the Loyola attack.
The team has seen quite a bit of change since winning its second consecutive national title last season.
In total, the Ramblers lost six players from last season, including the senior leader Cody Caldwell, who signed a professional contract to play in Greece after he graduated. Perhaps the biggest loss came this past July, when Thomas Jaeschke decided to forgo his senior season and signed a professional contract to play in Poland. He ended his collegiate career as the most decorated player in Loyola men’s volleyball history. The Wheaton, Illinois, native was a two-time All-American and the 2015 American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year, to name some of his honors.
The resignation of former head coach Shane Davis also posed an obstacle. Davis left in December, accepting the head coaching position for Northwestern University’s women’s volleyball team. He was the guiding force behind the Rambler’s recent streak of greatness, and replacing him is no easy task.
Newly appointed head coach Mark Hulse accepted the task of keeping the momentum going. Since he was an assistant coach during the two championship runs, his experience is a given. In a previous interview for loyolaramblers.com he expressed his eagerness to take on the new challenge.
“I am both humbled and excited to accept the opportunity to lead this program going forward, and we will all be working to continue the traditions of success that have come to typify Loyola men’s volleyball,” said Hulse. “We hope for nothing but the best for Shane and his family, and he will remain an important part of the community here at Loyola.”
Hulse said he believes he is prepared for the job, thanks in part to Davis.
“He hired me when I was young [and] he took a chance on me,” said Hulse. “I was groomed to be in a spot where he steps away, and [I was] ready to go, so I owe him that … It wasn’t a real whirlwind. I moved offices, and other than that it wasn’t all that different in terms of what we needed to do.”
Only time will tell if Hulse can truly fill Davis’ shoes. He’ll be helped by a strong and experienced core of veteran players who returned from last year’s championship team.
Loyola entered the 2016 season as the favorite to win the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA), which would be the Ramblers’ fourth consecutive conference title. Loyola has established itself as the model for success in NCAA men’s volleyball, but the team must hold itself to that high standard if it wants to remain at the top of a collegiate sport that is growing in popularity and competitiveness. Winning three national championships in a row is almost unheard of, but Loyola might just be the team to do it.