Women's Volleyball

Tough Nonconference Schedule Helps Prepare Loyola for Conference Play

Steve Woltmann | Loyola AthleticsHead coach Chris Muscat faces the challenge of turning the Loyola women’s volleyball team’s season around without a single senior on his roster.

After a tough schedule and a rough start, the Loyola women’s volleyball team (6-9, 1-1) is searching for a spark of momentum to turn things around in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play.

Loyola played in four nonconference tournaments on the road. Some of the opponents were among the best in the country, such as the University of Arizona, a member of the Pac-12 Conference, No. 28 Kansas State University, a member of the Big 12 Conference, and the University of Miami, a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Ramblers open up conference play tested and prepared for the MVC regular season. Fourth-year head coach Chris Muscat said he wasn’t worried about his team’s record because the team gained experience during the nonconference schedule.

“The 6-9 [overall record] is not the type of record we want to be at, at the end of the season,” said Muscat. “[However,] we wanted to play teams that would show us what we can accomplish this season as well as show us our weaknesses as a team and what we need to work on in practice to improve for Missouri Valley Conference play.”

The nonconference schedule is carefully arranged by the coaching staff during the off-season. Muscat said putting together the nonconference schedule was a tough task because he had to figure out the proper balance between challenging his team and helping his team gain confidence.

Loyola only played one home game before it opened conference play against Illinois State University on Sept. 24. Although the Ramblers thought they were prepared to start conference play, the results showed otherwise. Loyola lost 3-1 and opened its conference schedule 0-1.

At first, the loss was a blow to the team’s confidence, according to Muscat, but he said he told his team not to dwell on the past. The Ramblers then hosted and beat Indiana State University in five sets on Sept. 24.

Loyola continues its conference play against the University of Evansville on Sept. 30 and against Southern Illinois University on Oct. 1. With wins, the Ramblers can rebound back to a .500 record and climb the conference rankings.

After dropping nine of its 15 matches of the season, Loyola’s only hope for an NCAA tournament bid lies in a win at the MVC tournament championship, which will be held Nov. 24-26. Last season, the Ramblers lost to Missouri State University in the first round of the MVC tournament, and despite a 20-win season, Loyola did not receive an at-large bid to the national tournament. This year’s team will need to win 14 of its last 16 games to match last season’s record.