The Loyola women’s volleyball team (7-2) won five games in total last season. Now in the midst of a seven game winning streak, the Ramblers have already eclipsed their previous win total through nine games.
The program’s longest win streak since 2015 began Aug. 25 against McNeese State University. Since then, Furman University, Georgia State University, Marshall University, Utah State University, Western Michigan University and Canisius College have fallen to the Loyola team led by new head coach Amanda Berkley.
The team also captured two tournament titles on their seven-game tear: The Rambler Challenge and the Kalamazoo Conference Center Tournament this past weekend.
All this has come after an 0-2 start, which junior outside hitter Quinn Spieker said was primarily due to being rusty.
Berkley agreed, saying the slow start was due to inexperience.
“They had to get a little more comfortable playing wise and figuring out what it takes to actually win,” Berkley said.
Whatever the issue was the team had it figured out by the next weekend when it swept three straight opponents en route to winning the Rambler Challenge. Berkley said she didn’t expect such a turnaround after seeing her team’s play opening weekend.
“We didn’t play well the first weekend, so I think it was definitely a surprise with how well we did,” Berkley said. “And those were three teams that from film watching them, we thought it could be some tough matches.”
Berkley said Spieker has been a driving force behind the win streak. In the last six matches, she has posted double-digit kills and led the team in kills five times.
“Spieker’s very focused on every point,” Berkley said. “She’s very focused on every swing and I think that just kind of feeds to the rest of the team.”
The Loyola attack is more than just Spieker. During the winning streak, senior outside hitter Morgan Gresham and redshirt junior middle hitter Heather Kocken have registered 47 and 40 kills, respectively. Junior setter Delilah Wolf has been distributing the ball to the attack well, with more than 40 assists twice during the streak and picked up Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Week honors Sept. 10.
“It helps to have more than just one big attacker on the team to get the other team on their toes about who’s getting set every ball,” Kocken said. “They have three attackers to try to stop.”
Kocken’s effectiveness will only continue to improve with time, according to Berkley. In the offseason, Kocken made the switch from right side hitter to middle hitter. While Kocken said the adjustment took hard work, she’s stepped up and been a big piece in the team’s early season success.
“It took confidence in myself and working through certain things,” Kocken said. “I was learning a whole new position, so that took a lot of patience and trusting the process.”
Kocken said her adjustment was also made easier by the new coaching staff instilling confidence in her. Spieker said the team’s change in atmosphere as the reason why the team is already outperforming last year’s record.
“I think what we needed was something new and I think that’s what we got and from now on we just gotta keep bringing that energy on the court,” Spieker said. “We create it ourselves and we finally found a way to do that.”
Despite the fast start, the team is driven to keep defying expectations.
“At the beginning of the season, our MVC standing was like eight or nine in the conference. It made sense because of our last year’s record,” Kocken said. “But now, this year, I think that just drives us to be top three in the conference.”
Echoing the sentiment of her players, Berkley said her job isn’t done. She said the team “can’t be satisfied” with its early record.
“From last year to this year, we definitely wanted to improve, but I want to win,” Berkley said. “I’m very competitive and I want to win every match.”
Loyola returns to Gentile Arena to host DePaul University, Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago for the Chicago Cup Sept. 14-15.