Despite starting 3-1 in conference play, the No. 10 Loyola men’s volleyball team has only played one match against the perennial powerhouses of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA).
The Ramblers are currently tied for third in the MIVA standings, but have only played No. 1 Ohio State University, which easily swept Loyola 3-0.
The team’s biggest tests will come when it plays Ball State University (BSU), Lewis University, Grand Canyon University (GCU) and The Ohio State University (OSU) for the second time.
Head coach Mark Hulse said preparation for the conference games is the same as any other team, but it does help to know what to expect.
“I think you’re more familiar with the team. With McKendree, we’ve played the exact same personnel with those guys for three years, so you get to know a crew pretty well in conference,” Hulse said. “I think we know the guys but also as a program, what they value.”
For junior middle blocker Jeff Jendryk, this season will be his ninth time playing certain MIVA teams. He agreed with Hulse that the experience can help in a match.
“Getting more comfortable on the court can help; sometimes from past years you remember tendencies a little bit,” said Jendryk. “So in that particular situation you might have a little edge on where he’s going to hit which might give an advantage to you. But other than that, you just know the guys from past years so you know what they hit.”
Each team has a different playing style and different strengths, according to Hulse.
OSU started the season 12-0 after winning the national championship last year. The Buckeyes are almost exactly the same as last year and it’s hard to find a weakness, according to Hulse.
“They’re pretty solid top to bottom,” Hulse said. “They have two pin hitters in Miles Johnson and Nicolas Szerszen who are putting up pretty gaudy numbers right now, and they rely pretty heavily on those guys. Ohio State is a two pony show, but it’s quite a show and they’re big ponies.”
GCU is 7-5 overall and 5-1 in MIVA play. But, four of its six conference matches have been in the Antelope’s home gym. GCU is very different from past seasons and will be tested once the team hit the road, Hulse said.
“Grand Canyon is a different group than they’ve been the last couple years. It’s different personnel; we haven’t really got into them too much yet,” Hulse said. “They are tough to beat at their gym. I think that was evident when they took down Lewis. We’ll see how they do on the road, but they’re still kind of finding their identity.”
BSU is No. 11 in the NCAA rankings and is tied with Loyola for third in the MIVA standings. The Cardinals are 10-2 overall with their only losses coming against No. 1 OSU and University of Hawaii. After going 20-9 in 2016, BSU has made some key additions for this season, according to Hulse.
“Ball State was pretty good last year. They’ve gotten a whole lot better offensively; they brought in a [first-year] who is pretty good, [Matt Szews]…The addition of Szews added a lot of firepower,” Hulse said. “They went from a pretty good defensive team to a pretty good defensive team who can play some offense. That’s a pretty good team all of a sudden.”
Lewis is No. 6 nationally and the fourth team in the MIVA standings after starting conference play 4-2. The team’s experience level is similar to the Ramblers, according to Hulse.
“Lewis is maybe in a similar boat to us where they have some younger guys on the court as well as some guys with some experience, [which is] a nice mix there. [They have] young guys who are real talented the same way our young guys are,” Hulse said. “They’re going to be scarier and scarier every week. They’re getting better and better … They’re big, they’re long, they’re athletic and they’re getting better.”
Lewis’ location in Romeoville, Illinois, which is just 26 miles from Chicago and the fact that it’s also a private Catholic school, makes Lewis one of the Ramblers’ most heated opponents, according to junior opposite Ben Plaisted.
“[They’re] probably our biggest conference rivalry, so there’s always a bit of an edge going into that,” Plaisted said.
The Ramblers are scheduled to continue MIVA play with three straight home games against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne on Feb. 16, BSU on Feb. 18 and Lewis University on Feb. 24.