No. 6 Loyola men’s volleyball team (7-2) is set to begin Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) play Feb. 9. After a 3-1 victory over No. 13 University of Southern California, the Ramblers will head into conference play with a five-game winning streak.
The Ramblers have played six top-15 teams in nine games, giving them a challenging schedule that doesn’t get any easier. As the Ramblers move into conference play, they’ll face more top-ranked teams.
Senior middle blocker Jeff Jendryk said beginning the season against teams mainly from the West Coast helped the Ramblers build confidence.
“If we can beat some of those West Coast teams, it is great for later on in the season,” Jendryk said. “It’s really good at the beginning of our season just to see how we compare against those teams. Knowing that we have the same capability as those teams, we can beat pretty much any team here.”
Hulse said teams from the West Coast play a different style of volleyball as they are used to playing on a beach. The west coast teams play a faster style which helps the Ramblers in conference play, according to Hulse, the Ramblers have picked up on that faster style and can use it against the slower MIVA teams.
“We have played one of the toughest schedules in the country,” head coach Mark Hulse said. “We know there are some really good teams in our conference. If you aren’t seeing that early, then you’re maybe surprised by it later, and we saw that early for sure.”
Although the ability to play the game well is important, scouting the other teams is something Hulse plans on doing, even more so with the conference teams.
“A lot of it is introspective with watching video. There [are] a few things that we have to figure out about the other guy,” Hulse said. “There [are] some things stylistically we want to be aware of so we are prepared for it. What are we good at, how do we get better with that and are we deficient in some spots and can we bring up the bottom there.”
Hulse said the team’s knowledge of the game is high this season because of its tough non-conference schedule and he credits that to the seniority of the players, in addition to the athletes they’ve brought in, such as first-year setter Garrett Zolg. The experience against teams from California will help against teams in MIVA, according to Hulse.
“That has translated really well early in the year, playing some teams from the West Coast, that sometimes have a higher IQ,” Hulse said. “I think it will translate really well within our league where we may be able to run a faster pace to play, which sometime is tough to keep up with.”
When it comes to the toughest team in MIVA, Hulse said it’s a toss up between The Ohio State University, Ball State University, Lewis University and Loyola. With anywhere from four to five teams in the top 15, Hulse said he doesn’t think anybody is going to go 16-0.
“It really is the cliche. ‘The next match is the most important one,’” Hulse said. “I don’t know how it is going to shake out at the end, but I know that if we aren’t ready every night it is going to be really tough to win.”
Although the Ramblers are the holders of a five-game winning streak, they aren’t letting that affect their preparation.
“I don’t think that [the win streak] is that present in our minds,” junior libero Avery Aylsworth said. “We are just taking each game one game at a time. It is great that we have won [five] in a row, but we want to win the next one.”
Ohio State is coming off back-to-back championships and was ranked No. 1 going into the season. The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll released Feb. 5 has the Buckeyes ranked No. 5, and Aylsworth said he knows they’re going to be a tough team to face.
“They are still one of the top teams in the country. It is still going to be a challenge playing them no matter what,” Aylsworth said. “They are still a super strong team returning a lot of starters. They have been really strong over the last couple years. I think it will be a good match up when we do play them. I think it will be a pretty evenly matched game with two pretty high level teams.”
Loyola is set to play in-state rival No. 8 Lewis University Feb. 28. Jendryk said most of the players are looking forward to the match.
“I would say [Lewis is] our biggest rival,” Jendryk said. “We always get really fired up when we play them. We usually go back and forth each year on them. It will be a good feeling when we beat them this year. That is our goal.”
While the Ramblers don’t plan to physically prepare any differently for their conference matchups, Hulse said since they’re more familiar with the teams they’re facing, the mental preparation could be a little different.
“We haven’t played [University of California-Santa Barbara] in a few years, so none of these guys have played that team before,” Hulse said. “With the conference teams, some of these guys have been playing [members of MIVA teams] not just the four years they have been here but the couple years they have played them in high school as well. There is some familiarity.”
Although it’s nice to be familiar with one’s opponent, Hulse said sometimes it makes playing those teams more challenging.
“[Conference teams] know you as well so you have to do things a little different every now and again,” Hulse said. “Pick up what [they’re] doing recently rather than what you think you know. It could be tougher to find the trend because you can be blinded by what you think you know.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to open MIVA play against Quincy University Feb. 9 at Gentile Arena.