After an improved 2018 season under first-year head coach Amanda Berkley, the Loyola women’s volleyball team looks to make a jump to an upper-level finish in the conference.
After finishing 16-14 last season, Berkley said the young Ramblers have a large burden to bear as they seek to improve upon last season. Depth on the team was an issue last season and with the addition of so much young talent, the Ramblers are poised to potentially have a breakout year, according to Berkley. She said the incoming first-years have “an incredible feel for the game,” and have already started adjusting to the collegiate style of play.
“This first-year group has done a great job, they’ve come in and really stepped up their level of play,” Berkley said. ”We’ve got a fairly deep team right now and it’s pretty fun to watch them compete and push the upperclassmen [to improve].”
Last season marked an 11-game improvement in Berkley’s first season as head coach after taking over for Chris Muscat. Heading into her second season as head coach, Berkley said consistent development has been the goal for the team. The upperclassmen have done an excellent job preparing the seven first-year’s for the beginning of the season, according to Berkley. She said their leadership is irreplaceable and will prove to be a huge component of helping others in the program improve.
After missing the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament last year with a 0-3 loss to Missouri State University, Berkley said she thinks the team could be set up to have a breakout year. With the team having more depth than last year providing an increase in competition, she said the Ramblers are heading into this season ready to take that next step.
“I think we can improve upon the year we had last year,” Berkley said. “I think we have a chance to really improve our level of play going forward. … I thought last year was a really great step.”
The Ramblers are bringing back 10 players who contributed heavily to the team last year. Outside hitter Quinn Spieker, who led the team with 2.96 kills per set, returns for her senior season. The Ramblers also return redshirt senior middle blocker Heather Kocken, who led the team in blocks last year with 1.03 blocks per set.
Being one of seven seniors on the team, Spieker has taken on more of a leadership role and has helped with the coaching of the younger players, according to Berkley. She said Spieker has proved to be a natural leader and has worked with the underclassmen to help them adjust to the collegiate level. Berkley added Spieker has been irreplaceable in the beginning processes of getting the team ready for its season opener against Western Kentucky University.
“[Upperclassmen] have helped the [first-years] understand what the expectations are,” Berkley said. “The senior class has really been great with trying to get all of the [first-years] to understand what we are trying to accomplish and trying to win a championship here.”
With the addition of seven first-year players, Spieker said team chemistry and getting out to a hot start are the keys to a good season. With the addition of the first-year players, every position is up for grabs, meaning there’s an added level of competition among the team every day as the number of players at each position has drastically increased, according to Spieker.
“Team chemistry so far has been good,” Spieker said. “Something that is making it a lot easier is that the [first-years] are coming in and playing really well. We have a lot of depth on the team and every position right now has at least two or more players fighting for the spot so I think that is really pushing everyone to perform their best day in and day out.”
Berkley said the added depth to the team this year elevates the play of every player. With the addition of many talented first-years, she said the intensity of offseason practices and workouts has increased.
Berkley said the Ramblers have been working hard all offseason and aim to get out to a hot start when they open their season against Western Kentucky University Aug. 30.