Now that the regular season has come to an end, the Loyola men’s volleyball team is looking ahead to the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament. The team finished the regular season 19-7 overall and 12-2 in MIVA play, which earned the Ramblers the second seed in the tournament.
Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said they ended the regular season strong because everything began to click for the Ramblers. The proof? A six-game win streak to close out the season. This hot streak gave the Ramblers a big advantage heading into the tournament as Hulse said the team has been playing some of the best volleyball of the season.
“We’re playing really good volleyball. We’re competing really hard, too, and, when you start to put those two things together, you’re onto something,” Hulse said. “There’s a really big temptation to hit the brakes but I like that we got together … and played for the guy next to us.”
The Ramblers now hold the No. 2 seed in the tournament and will play The Ohio State University in the first round of the tournament. The Buckeyes are led by redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Jake Hanes, who leads the MIVA in kills per set with 4.35. The Ramblers swept the Buckeyes twice earlier in the regular season.
Senior outside hitter Colin Mahan has been the team leader in kills during the regular season with 327, which puts him at fourth in the MIVA. He will play an important role heading into the tournament, according to Hulse. Hulse said other seniors, such as opposite hitter Dane LeClair, libero Avery Aylsworth, outside hitter Will Tischler, outside hitter Markus Melbardis, middle blocker Paul Narup and Mahan, have helped lead Loyola to a successful season.
“[The seniors] are good and they’ve worked their butts off for what they have and for the guys around them,” Hulse said.
Hulse said the road for the Ramblers this year has had its difficulties with a four match losing streak spanning from March 1-15. But he said as of late, the Ramblers have found their rhythm and are communicating better on and off the court. After Loyola’s final game of the season against Quincy University, Mahan spoke about what the team will work on heading into the first round of the MIVA tournament.
“Just going back to the basics in practice and then bringing it to the game has just been an important thing for me [and the team],” Mahan said.
The Ramblers hope to continue their winning streak behind the efforts of Mahan who finished the season with two Offensive Player of the Week awards. Sophomore setter Garrett Zolg and Narup will also play a huge role if the Ramblers are to make a deep run in the tournament, according to Hulse. Zolg led the MIVA in assists per set with 10.98 and Narup led the MIVA in blocks per set with 1.19.
Throughout the season, Hulse has said the Ramblers biggest threat in the MIVA comes from Lewis University. Loyola has lost to the Flyers twice earlier in the season. After Lewis claimed the No. 1 seed in the MIVA tournament, if Loyola is to clinch their first NCAA bid since 2015, it’ll have to go through Lewis. In Loyola’s 2014 and 2015 championship runs, the Ramblers had to face off against Lewis in the MIVA championship.
For the Ramblers, the key to making it to the championship game will be sticking to what they’ve been doing, according to Hulse. He said this team has a lot of good players and he emphasized the amount of depth and talent this team has. If Loyola is to go far in the MIVA tournament, it’ll have to rely on its bench to help boost the team, according to Hulse.
“We’re at our best when we’re doing it together,” Hulse said. “If those guys are in the game, if those guys are pulling for us on the sidelines, whatever it is … we’re certainly at our best when everyone is contributing.”
The Ramblers begin the opening round of the MIVA Tournament April 13 against Ohio State. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN3.