This past weekend, the Loyola women’s volleyball team (4-2) swept three opponents in straight sets to win the Rambler Challenge, a two-day, round-robin tournament at Gentile Arena.
Loyola took down Furman University and Georgia State Friday and finished off Marshall University Saturday to take the tournament crown.
Former Loyola head coach Chris Muscat started the Rambler Challenge in the 2015 season and after a one-year break, held the event again in 2017. It’s unknown why the event wasn’t held in 2016, but assistant athletics director for communications Bill Behrns said it might not have worked out with scheduling.
Already on the schedule when new head coach Amanda Berkley was hired, the Rambler Challenge was passed to her this season.
The event joins a long line of women’s volleyball tournaments Loyola has hosted intermittently since 1987, such as the Lady Rambler Classic and Loyola Invitational.
Hosting a tournament comes with extra work for the athletics department, according to Behrns.
“You’re securing sponsorships, you’re making sure that teams are taken care of, from getting hotel arrangements set up [and] practice times,” Behrns said.
However, Behrns said despite the extra work, scheduling home tournaments is attractive to most athletics programs because it’s the “perfect opportunity” to get a bundle of home games on the schedule.
“It’s always hard to get home games, and obviously if you’re hosting a tournament, you can get three games at least throughout the weekend,” Behrns said. “So that’s why a lot of teams will do it.”
On top of added home games, Behrns said teams look to host tournaments because it keeps costs down, as teams don’t have to worry about travel and hotel costs.
The perks of hosting tournaments are especially valuable to the women’s volleyball team, as the team typically plays four tournaments per season.
Other Loyola teams are slated to host tournaments this season as well. The men’s soccer team hosted the Hampton Inn at Loyola Chicago Classic this past weekend. In September, women’s golf is hosting the Loyola Invitational in Flossmoor and the cross country program will host the Lakefront Invitational. Women’s soccer is hosting the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in November.
In total, Loyola athletics programs are scheduled to host six events this year, while they’ve hosted a variety of events in the past, including conference tournaments in multiple sports.
Chicago is a popular travel destination for teams because of its tourist attractions and easy commercial airplane access, according to Behrns. At the Rambler Challenge this past weekend, the competing teams came from South Carolina, West Virginia and Georgia.
“The majority of volleyball teams [are] not going to charter flights. They’re going to fly commercially,” Behrns said. “So, it’s easy to get flights in and out of Chicago.”
After playing in a tournament in Birmingham, Alabama only a week prior, in front of “only three fans,” according to Berkley, senior Morgan Gresham said the team was excited to return to their home crowd at Gentile.
The event was particularly special for Gresham because she got the chance to compete against her sister, Madison Gresham, a first-year outside hitter for Furman. The elder Gresham said her parents would show up to the match wearing merchandise supporting both Furman and Loyola, but other family members attending would be less impartial.
“My grandma is coming and she told me she’d pick my side because I’m a senior,” Gresham said prior to the tournament. “So I’m excited about grandma’s support.”
The Rambler Challenge was also Berkley’s first home game experience as head coach of Loyola.
“I really enjoyed it in Gentile for the first time … the atmosphere is awesome,” Berkley said.
Despite inheriting the tournament from Muscat, Berkley said she plans to continue to schedule the Rambler Challenge in years to come.
“We always want to play at home one weekend out of the preseason,” Berkley said. “So I’m sure we’ll continue to schedule this tournament.”
Loyola is scheduled to be back in Gentile to host the Chicago Cup Sept. 14-15.