The Loyola women’s volleyball team (1-5) had a stumbling start to the 2017 season after dropping all three matches at the Cal Molten Classic in Berkeley, California, and losing two of three as it hosted the Rambler Challenge.
After last year’s underwhelming 14-18 (9-9) record and the losses of first team All-Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) outside hitter Morgan Reardon and MVC All Tournament nominee middle blocker Sami Hansen, the Ramblers hope they can turn things around to climb the MVC standings in 2017.
Despite the slow start, head coach Chris Muscat said the team has remained confident and still hopes to achieve better rankings.
“We played three very physical teams [at the Cal Molten Classic] that don’t make many mistakes and that was coupled with some younger players getting their first reps at Loyola,” Muscat said. “Obviously from a results standpoint, it’s not what we wanted. But from a development standpoint, we gained a lot of valuable experience that’s [going to] benefit us this season and that’s what the preseason is for.”
Five underclassmen saw play in all six matches — including all-Cal Molten Classic first-year middle blocker Elle Van Grinsven — as they continue to look for ways to replace Reardon and Hansen’s production. Muscat said he believes the offseason and improvements across the board are the way they will make up for the loss of three seniors.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily about replacing seniors. It’s about improving incrementally to replace their production and that’s something the team has shown me since last season ended, especially in the spring,” Muscat said.
Junior libero and defensive specialist Maddy Moser also discussed the improvement the team has seen since last season, saying she believed the disappointment of last year was about to propel the Ramblers into a successful season.
“There’s a different drive behind this team this year and we’re all fully committed to the goals we have and we’re all willing to put in the extra work it takes to achieve them,” Moser said. “It’s pretty clear that despite our slow start, last season’s disappointment has made us more driven and focused on being successful this year, and that’s something we all feel.”
The Ramblers are led by junior preseason All-MVC outside hitter Gabi Maciagowski — who led the team in kills in all six matches — and sophomore setter Delilah Wolf, who is set to return from a torn ACL she suffered last year after a rookie season including two MVC Freshman of the Week awards and a spot on the MVC All-Freshman team.
After being voted third in the MVC preseason poll, Muscat said he feels non-conference play will be crucial in succeeding once conference matches begin.
“The Missouri Valley is one of the best conferences in the country and I think we all understand that, especially our veterans, and that’s why this preseason is so important to reaching the high level of volleyball that the conference demands of you night in and night out,” Muscat said.
The Ramblers’ season continues this week Sept. 8-9 at the Marquette Invitational, where they will face off against Marquette University and the University of Kentucky before heading back home to take on crosstown rival DePaul University Sept. 12.