The Loyola men’s volleyball team fell to The Ohio State University in the final round of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament April 21. The Ramblers finished the season with a 23-7 overall record, including 11-3 in conference play.
Although they didn’t get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, head coach Mark Hulse said the players shouldn’t let this past weekend define their whole season.
Loyola began the season on the road beating the then-ranked No. 6 Brigham Young University (BYU) and falling to then-No. 5 University of California, Irvine. These teams went on to finish the season ranked No. 4 and No. 3, respectively. From there, Loyola’s schedule didn’t get any easier as it went on to face other West Coast teams, including then-No. 2 ranked Long Beach State.
Having a tough schedule from the start wasn’t an accident. The past two seasons, the Ramblers have been playing top-ranked teams to start the season. Hulse said this helps the team know where it truly stands and having a good strength of schedule is important when it comes time for the NCAA tournament selections.
Earlier this year, Hulse also said facing West Coast schools allows the athletes to see a different version of volleyball than they’re used to seeing in the Midwest.
“We knew this year, what the level was and we scheduled the teams that we scheduled this year … I think we were better prepared to compete against them this year than we were last year,” Hulse said. “We want to know where those teams are so we weren’t kidding ourselves into thinking we were real good if we weren’t.”
This season, the Ramblers went 17-1 in Gentile Arena and 6-5 on the road. One of those road wins was when they beat BYU in January. Junior middle blocker Paul Narup said getting the win at BYU was big for the team because it’s one of the more difficult schools to play at.
Winning on the road didn’t come easily to the Ramblers, nor for anybody else in MIVA. Each MIVA team — except Ohio State and Loyola — finished the season with at least seven road losses. Hulse said road wins come with game experience.
“I think that is one a testament to the league. Everyone is good enough, the margins were thin and a little bit of home court advantage maybe could have put us over the top,” Hulse said. “I think the other piece is the maturity level, a requisite maturity level that is necessary to win on the road. I think we had a lot of that. Being able to deal with the little things that are different [are] some variables that come with road games.”
The only MIVA opponent located fewer than three hours from Loyola is Lewis University, which is a one-hour drive away without traffic. Being in a somewhat unfamiliar location, having fans root against rather than for you and being on a bus for three-plus hours before a game can all affect the team’s performance, according to junior setter Dane LeClair.
“The parameters [and] the environment is really different pretty much everywhere you go,” LeClair told The Phoenix prior to the MIVA tournament. “Just your depth perception is a big thing in volleyball, so home advantage is kind of awesome.”
Before MIVA play started, Hulse said he didn’t think anyone was going to go 16-0 due to the high level of competition in the league. The two teams that came closest to a perfect record were Loyola and Ohio State, both finishing with a conference record of 11-3.
Seniors Jeff Jendryk, Ricky Gevis, Ryan Jamison and Jake Selsky all finished up their final season as Ramblers. With three starters leaving, Hulse said plenty of younger players are ready to step up and fill their roles on and off the court.
“I think our juniors, especially, but the younger guys across the board got a good taste of what it takes to be a leader on a team and also to kind of help lead your own team and be consistent in all those things,” Hulse said. “They got a ton of experience with that this year, so we have high hopes for the team next year and the leadership role that some of the now older guys will be able to provide in that campaign.”
With the men’s basketball and men’s volleyball successes, Hulse said he thought attendance at home games was higher than usual. He said he hopes next season the crowds will grow larger.