The No. 7-ranked Loyola men’s volleyball team (9-3, 2-0) emerged victorious against Quincy University and Lindenwood University to secure its first two victories as it begins Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) play. Loyola swept Quincy University in three sets with senior outside hitter Collin Mahan leading the team with 10 kills. The Ramblers defeated Lindenwood University in four sets as they won the match 3-1; senior outside hitter Will Tischler led the team with 17 kills.
Now the team is looking to keep that momentum going in the face of upcoming games against challenging, high-ranked opponents.
“Most of what we’ve done so far [has been] so that we know where the bar is,” head coach Mark Hulse said. “I don’t know what percentage of that was top 15.”
With teams such as No. 15 Purdue University Fort Wayne, No. 11 Ball State University and No. 10 Lewis University, MIVA has multiple nationally-ranked teams with exceptional records to make for a challenging path forward. The team has faced this level of competition before, defeating teams such as then-No. 5 Pepperdine University Jan. 18.
“When I play up to my standard, my teammates around me have a ton of success. That’s my mindset going in.”Garrett Zolg, sophomore setter
Mahan, a two-time MIVA Offensive Player of the Week, has had a good season so far with a new career high 24 kills against Penn State. Hulse said he’ll be vital for a MIVA tournament run, and he intends on feeding Mahan the ball as much as possible.
Despite the degree of difficulty that comes with such high competition, Hulse said he’s optimistic of Loyola’s chances to go far in the MIVA tournament and expects the players to exceed his already high expectations.
“In a lot of ways, we’re where we hoped we’d be … there’s confidence that comes with winning, but there’s more confidence in knowing where you stack up,” Hulse said. “We’re healthy. I think we’re playing the game at a high level. We’re doing some of the things that we’d thought we could be good at at a high level.”
Sophomore setter Garrett Zolg, 20, has continued to build on his success from last season with a new career-high 57 assists against Penn State. This overall elevation in play is largely due to the success of the team around him, according to Zolg. He said as the team heads into MIVA play, it has remained focused on using practice to fine tune team chemistry and communication.
“Coming in with the same mindset of trying to get better everyday, and not doing it for yourself but doing it for your teammates,” Zolg said. “When I play up to my standard, my teammates around me have a ton of success. That’s my mindset going in.”
First-year opposite hitter Luke Denton, 19, will get his first taste of the MIVA tournament this year as he hopes to make a dominant impression against some of the best teams in the nation.
On such a big stage it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but Denton said he’s kept a cool head, despite this being his first-year on the team.
“There’s definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions dealing with having to play at a higher level,” Denton said. “Overall, it’s been really exciting.”
Last year, Zolg recorded 44 assists in a victory over Ball State in the MIVA semifinals. When asked about what fans should expect from him this year, Zolg said he never focuses on numbers; the only stat he cares about is the one that shows up in the win column.
“Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to numbers,” Zolg said. “As long as the team wins, that’s all I really care about.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to continue their season Feb. 15 against Purdue Fort Wayne at Gentile Arena. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN3.