Loyola Phoenix

Defending National Champions Bounced in MIVA Semis

The season did not go as planned for the two-time reigning national champs. Adversities happen every season, but Loyola’s men’s volleyball team didn’t plan on trying to fill the void a team leader left or having a head coach leave six days before the team’s first game of the season.

After defeating Lewis University twice during the season, No. 2 seed Loyola fell to No. 4 seed Lewis in the semifinals for the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) conference tournament on April 20. This defeat not only prematurely ended the Ramblers’ season, it also crushed any NCAA tournament hopes Loyola had. This was the first time Loyola lost to the Flyers in a post-season match since 2012.

With every end of the season comes the burden of hard goodbyes and many “lasts” for the seniors. When Lewis scored the match’s final point, Peter Hutz pulled his jersey over his head. But what this senior class has accomplished in the last four years is something to be proud of.

Loyola will wave farewell to the most successful senior class in Loyola Athletics’ history. The seniors have a 99-21 overall record and are 50-10 in the MIVA. They also have two national championship titles and three consecutive conference titles.

Former Rambler Thomas Jaeschke, who would have been a senior this season, contributed to the program’s success. In July, the two-time National Player of the  Year announced he would forgo his senior season to pursue professional volleyball in Poland.

The men’s volleyball program faced another hardship after two-time NCAA National Champion head coach Shane Davis resigned from Loyola to coach women’s volleyball at Northwestern University.

Current head coach Mark Hulse stepped up from his assistant coaching position to take the reigns of the program. Hulse also brought on a new assistant coach, Connor Wexter, who spent two years as a graduate assistant coach at Carthage College, where he was also a four-year starter.

On top of the shift in the coaching staff, Loyola welcomed seven fresh players and one junior transfer to its roster.

First-year Colin Mahan led the rookies with 171 kills and 16 service aces on the season.

The Ramblers were led this season by seniors Hutz, Trevor Novotny and Nicholas Olson. Novotny averaged 2.41 kills per set this season. Olson led the squad with a .459 hitting percentage and a team-high 113 total blocks. Sophomore Jeff Jendryk lit up the court with a team-high 278 kills on the season and averaged .98 blocks per set. 

Sophomore Ben Plaisted didn’t see much time on the court toward the beginning of the season until Ricky Gevis suffered a season-ending ankle injury in February. Plaisted’s offensive pressure during the conference tournament earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team.

Hulse applauded his team’s ability to overcome the calamities the Ramblers faced this season.

“It was good, but it was tough,” said Hulse. “I don’t mean that it was tough as that it was bad. I mean that it was tough and there’s a lot of adversity and [the team], almost 100 percent of the time, responded admirably. [I’m] proud of the guys.”

Hulse said although the team didn’t achieve its ultimate goal of another national championship title, it did accomplish a lot in terms of nurturing talent.

“We had to deal with a lot in terms of adversity and injuries throughout the year,” said Hulse. “[We had] some great runs … It was good in that regard, to get those [younger players] some experience.”

Finishing 20-8 overall and 12-4 in the MIVA, Loyola had its worst record since 2012, when the Ramblers finished 19-12 overall. Still, the Ramblers finished in the nation’s top 10.

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