For the last 20 years, Loyola and Lewis University have been bitter rivals in men’s volleyball. This year, the local rivalry’s heating up with both teams sitting atop the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) standings with six matches remaining.
The Ramblers and Flyers faced off twice this season, and Lewis came out on top both times. They’ve played 60 times since 1996, and Loyola has a 35- 25 advantage in the series.
But the matches began to draw national attention in 2015, when Loyola defeated the Flyers in the MIVA championship and the NCAA national championship. Loyola sophomore outside hitter Devin Joslyn said matches against Lewis are more intense due to the talent that comes out of both schools.
“[Lewis was] going to be very competitive coming in,” Joslyn said. “I feel like we’re trying to compete between us and Lewis … we’re trying to fight with them to see who can be higher in the MIVA.”
Loyola and Lewis are currently the only two MIVA teams in the national top 10 — Loyola’s ranked 10th and Lewis is ranked seventh. Lewis head coach Dan Friend said the MIVA is full of exceptional schools who are always a challenge night in and night out, but the rivalry between Loyola and Lewis is something special to behold.
“It’s been a rivalry for the last 20 years,” Friend said. “The MIVA has always been competitive, everyone knows that … but the rivalry between [Lewis] and Loyola has always been intense.”
In the first half of MIVA play, Loyola came out strong against No. 15 Purdue University Fort Wayne and No. 12 Ball State University, who the Ramblers beat 3-1 each. Even with multiple wins against ranked teams in the MIVA, the team always knew its biggest competitor in the MIVA was Lewis, according to first-year opposite Luke Denton.
“They’re a good squad but we don’t want to approach [Lewis] any different,” Denton said. “A lot is at stake but we just prepare the same we do for any other team.”
Despite falling from No. 7 to No. 10, Loyola head coach Mark Hulse has remained optimistic heading into the second half of MIVA play. Hulse praised Joslyn and opposite hitter Dane LeClair for their efforts during MIVA play; Joslyn has had a stretch of productive games after his ankle injury against Purdue University Fort Wayne on Feb. 15 while LeClair recorded 10 kills and 11 digs in the team’s most recent game against Lewis.
Hulse said the competition Lewis brings to Loyola is good for the program as it brings out the best in the team. “They’ve been good all year, [Devin] got banged up a little bit midway through conference … with [his return and] him competing for that outside spot is good for everybody,” Hulse said. “Rising tides lift all ships, everyone is better with some competition.”
With the loss, Hulse said he expects his team to use this game as a standard for success moving forward. He said his team has been playing top-tier talent all year and the final game against Lewis in the MIVA Tournament is the game where it’ll all come together for the Ramblers.
“I hope the guys realize this, but [there’s] so much more volleyball left to play,” Hulse said. “Without getting too caught up in the result, I think we’re playing good volleyball.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to continue their season March 21 against No. 15 Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m.