With a second team All-Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) award, a preseason All-MVC award and a stat sheet that reads more like a basketball player’s points and rebounds than a volleyball player’s kills and digs, junior outside hitter Gabi Maciagowski is a core member of the Loyola women’s volleyball team.
Maciagowski was second on the team in 2016 with 412 kills and 3.30 kills per set. Through 10 matches of this season, she leads the team with 84 kills and 2.62 kills per set.
The Ramblers are relying on Maciagowski after a dismal start to the season, according to head coach Chris Muscat.
“I think [Maciagowski] is one player, in a group, in a team sport where ultimately we measure ourselves based upon our ability to be successful or fail on any given night, and she’s a piece to that,” Muscat said. “Right now, both her and the team need to be better for the result to be different.”
The team sits at 1-10 — swept in seven of its 10 losses. Maciagowski posted double-digit kills in one match in September — during the team’s sole win of the season against Samford University.
Despite poor outcomes during the nonconference schedule, the team can rely on Maciagowski with the ball, according to junior outside hitter Morgan Gresham.
“[Maciagowski] is our big go-to kid, she’s our big physical kid on the right side, I think she’s somebody that everyone has confidence in,” Gresham said. “We’re throwing the ball back there and she’s going to win that physical battle at the net. She’s a key player in our offense.”
On a team without seniors, Muscat and the coaching staff have been looking to build a group of leaders for the Ramblers to grow over the next two seasons. On paper, as one of the biggest offensive producers on the team, Maciagowski seems like a natural fit to lead.
Instead, Muscat said Gresham, junior libero Alex Nunez and sophomore setter Delilah Wolf have filled those roles, allowing Maciagowski to focus on attacking.
“Right now we have a few people who are embracing the opportunity to grow as leaders. [Wolf] has really taken on that role, [Nunez] has done a great job with accepting that challenge to evolve into a leadership role and [Gresham] has done a great job with taking on those characteristics,” Muscat said. “That allows [Maciagowski] to play her game.”
With the leadership responsibilities off her back and the freedom to play her game, Maciagowski is setting the bar high for what her and the team can accomplish in her last two years at Loyola, even with the 1-10 start.
“This year [my goals are] definitely [earning] first team all-MVC and team-wise making the NCAA tournament. So we want to win that MVC tournament,” Maciagowski said. “My senior year, I’m aiming [for] All-American.”
The Ramblers sit tied for last place out of 10 MVC teams before the conference schedule starts. Maciagowski said the team learned during the nonconference schedule and believes it will improve.
“I think we’ve been working through a lot this preseason,” Maciagowski said. “We’re a pretty fresh team and I think it’s all starting to click. I think it’s going to be uphill from the start of conference play.”
Turning the season around against the MVC teams might not be as easy as the team makes it sound. Drake University sits on top of the conference with a 10-3 record, No. 22 ranked University of Northern Iowa is in second with a 10-4 record and Missouri State University is in third with an 8-5 record.
But two of Missouri State’s losses came against two teams that were ranked No. 8 in the country at the time, Kansas University and the University of Washington, while one of their wins came against No. 20 The Ohio State University. Because of the strength of their schedule, the Bears received seven top-25 votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
The Ramblers are scheduled to open their MVC competition against Drake University on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. in Gentile Arena.