On April 14, the Loyola men’s volleyball team (22-6, 11-3) defeated No. 7 seed Lindenwood University 3-0 in the first round of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) Tournament. Tonight, the Ramblers are set to face No. 3 seed Ball State University in the semifinals.
Loyola finished the regular season as co-MIVA champions, sharing the title with The Ohio State University. This is the Ramblers’ first regular-season title since 2014, when they won the national championship.
As a higher seed, Loyola hosted the quarterfinal game, so the team didn’t have to make the five-hour trek to St. Charles, Missouri for the second time in less than two weeks. Sophomore libero Jake Freeman said its April 5 loss to the Lions was a wake-up call for the team.
“The first time we played [Lindenwood], we handled them pretty easily in [Gentile]. We were pretty fired up for it,” Freedman said. “The second time we played them at their place, they kind of just outplayed us. We didn’t play awful; they just kept up with us, and in the end, they got it. I think we are pretty fired up for this game.”
Having home-court advantage for the first and second round gives the Ramblers an edge on several levels, according to junior setter Dane Leclair. The Ramblers have gone 16-1 in Gentile Arena and could potentially play one more game there this season after the semifinal game.
“The parameters [of the court], the environment is really different pretty much everywhere you go,” Leclair said. “Your depth perception is a big thing in volleyball, so home advantage is kind of awesome.”
After the end of the regular season, the Ramblers had a full five days to practice before having to face Lindenwood in the first game of playoffs. Head coach and MIVA Coach of the Year Mark Hulse said during practice this week, they worked on fine-tuning their skills to get back to where they were earlier in the season.
The Ramblers had a three-day break before taking on Ball State. Loyola went 1-1 against Ball State during the regular season, winning at Gentile Arena and losing in Muncie, Indiana. Since the Ramblers are the higher seed again, they will have home-court advantage. Unlike preparing for Lindenwood, Hulse said they’re going to have to adjust their playing style before they face Ball State Wednesday night.
“They are real tough defensively. They make you earn it out there,” Hulse said. “I think in some ways Lindenwood was a good work up into [Ball State]. Ball State is playing a slightly better version of [Lindenwood’s] game. They have been winning a few, they beat Ohio State — who’s pretty darn good — last weekend. They are playing some pretty good volleyball.”
All eight MIVA teams have played each other twice already — once at home and once away. Playing teams for a third time can be more difficult than one would think, according to Hulse. With both teams putting everything on the court the last two games, he said it could be harder to catch the other off guard.
“I think it’s nice when the team can add some wrinkles down the stretch,” Hulse said. “Hopefully, we will be able to do a couple things differently than we did during the season and give them something of a different look. It’s tough, and it’s going to [be the same] with everybody we play the rest of the conference playoff. Everyone will know each other very well.”
At the beginning of the season, the players set goals for themselves to reach by the season’s end, according to Hulse. One of those goals was being one of the top two seeds going into playoffs. Hulse said they worked hard to get into one of the top spots and it’s right where they want to be.
“We said at the beginning of the year you need to be [one of] the top two seeds to be where you want to be,” Hulse said. “Historically, the number one or two seed of our regular season are the only teams that ever make it to the NCAA [tournament]. It’s almost 50/50 whether it’s the one seed or the two seed. One of those teams is going to make it, and the three seed rarely does, if ever.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to play Ball State April 18 in the semifinal round of the MIVA tournament at Gentile Arena. First serve is set for 7 p.m.