Despite making it to the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) Tournament championship, the No. 9-ranked Loyola men’s volleyball team (21-8, 12-2) missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Ramblers are preparing for the offseason.
Loyola’s season ended April 20 with a 3-0 loss to Lewis University in south suburban Romeoville. Lewis received the MIVA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the Ramblers didn’t receive an at-large bid.
“[Lewis] was pretty sharp, I thought they exposed us a little bit,” Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said. “I don’t think it was a desire thing so much as it was an execution thing and they were really good on their Ps and Qs. We were just OK.”
In their two previous matchups, Loyola fell to Lewis 3-1 both times. The Ramblers came into the match hoping to use this opportunity in the MIVA Tournament as a revenge game on their way to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since winning the 2015 national championship, according to Hulse.
The Ramblers started off their regular season with a loss to No. 4-ranked University of California Irvine before going on a six-match win streak to improve to 6-1. Loyola would go on to have multiple wins against ranked teams such as then-No. 5-ranked Pepperdine University, No. 11 California State University Northridge, No. 15 Purdue University Fort Wayne and No. 12 Ball State University.
Over the course of the season, the Ramblers were led in kills by senior outside hitter Collin Mahan with 3.38 kills per set and in assists by sophomore setter Garrett Zolg with 10.87 assists per set. Senior libero Avery Aylsworth led the team in digs with 2.33 per set and moved to sixth in total career digs in program history with 609. Mahan, Aylsworth, senior middle blocker Will Tischler, senior middle blocker Paul Narup and Zolg were all named 2019 All-MIVA, while first-year opposite hitter Luke Denton being selected to the MIVA All-Freshman Team.
Hulse praised the seniors on the team for all of the work they’ve done during their time at Loyola. Mahan won two MIVA Offensive Player of the Week awards this season while Narup both won a MIVA Defensive Player of the Week award.
Over the course of the season, the Ramblers went 12-3 at Gentile and 8-5 on the road. After the game, Hulse praised the Ramblers fans who made the trip out to support the team, as well as those who came to watch good volleyball — even those who made the trip to Romeoville.
“It was nice [to see so many Loyola fans at Lewis],” Hulse said. “We weren’t that concerned of having to go on the road here. … There were a lot of people [at Lewis] that just like volleyball and were just cheering for good plays on both sides.”
Hulse said he’s proud of the team’s season and looks forward to the offseason. Loyola is set to return 12 players to the roster next season, including Zolg and Denton.
“We had pretty lofty goals for the [team] because it was a really good group,” Hulse said. “I thought we were tough and got better throughout the year … we had a tough match down the stretch at the end and we fell short of what I think our really big goal was.”
With another season in the books comes a new set of goals for the team. Hulse said he looks forward to improving upon this year’s record next season, adding it’s all about making small improvements and adjustments every year until the team gets to where it needs to be.