As the No. 7-ranked Loyola men’s volleyball team sits tied with No. 10-ranked Lewis University atop the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association standings, the Ramblers’ success can be attributed, in part, to the leadership and talent coming from their six seniors.
Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said the game plan for the Ramblers has always been to run the offense through the seniors and have them set the pace for the rest of the team.
The experience of seniors outside hitter Collin Mahan, libero Avery Aylsworth, outside hitter Will Tischler, opposite hitter Dane LeClair, outside hitter Markus Melbardis and middle blocker Paul Narup have helped the team remain undefeated in the MIVA, according to Hulse.
“[The seniors] been really consistent … you’ve seen some different guys step up in some really big ways,” Hulse said.
Seniors have been in other high stakes games against ranked MIVA teams such as The Ohio State University and Ball State University, according to LeClair.
LeClair said while it’s impossible to get used to playing under such intense conditions, it becomes easier to have tunnel vision and forget about anything that doesn’t help him win the next point.
He said the nerves he felt in his first-year were similar to the nerves he feels as a senior, but as a senior it’s easier for him to put the stakes of the game aside and play. The ability to forget about an error and move onto the next play is a key mindset to victory and is one that LeClair, 21, is passing down to the younger players on the team.
“You really learn that it’s always about a second effort,” LeClair said. “That second swing, maybe even a third swing to put that ball away is [what it takes] to do the job.”
Each school has a different style of play, which requires multiple matches against them to adapt to their gameplans, according to LeClair. He said the style of volleyball in MIVA is different from what it’s like earlier in the season as it’s much more of a dog fight and resembles a more Midwestern type of play.
This change in style and pace can be a shock to newer players, but LeClair said the team takes a deep breath and just focuses on the next point.
“It’s pretty gritty, meaning that people are really doing whatever they can to get the ball up and take big swings,” LeClair said.
Another benefit of experience is the increased communication that comes with playing with the same teammates year in and year out, according to Hulse. He said a good offensive possession entails knowing where everyone is and knowing where everyone will be on the court.
Hulse said it’s the job of Aylsworth to position everyone on the court and get them to where they need to be and the communication he provides is essential to the team.
“It really settles us down in some ways,” Hulse said. “A lot of it has been off the court stuff … they know what it takes [to win].”
Hulse said seniors Mahan and Tischler have worked with the younger players to improve communication and get them ready for MIVA play.
Sophomore setter Garrett Zolg has had an exceptional year with a career-high 57 assists against Penn State University. Mahan has worked with Zolg to improve positioning of sets as well as communication between Zolg and hitters.
“[Zolg has adjusted] really well I think,” Mahan said. “[He is] always dialed in no matter who is on the other side of the court.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to continue their season March 1 against Lewis University at Gentile Arena. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the match will be broadcasted on ESPN3.