Kicking off conference play with a 3-0 win against Valparaiso University Sept. 27 and a 3-1 win against Drake University Sept. 30, the Loyola women’s volleyball (8-6, 1-0) team is heading into Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play with high hopes and an abundance of confidence.
The Ramblers are coming off a winning record through the non-conference season, comprised of four different tournaments that head coach Amanda Berkley said helped iron out some kinks. The team hopes the combination of a successful preseason and two wins to start conference season will mean good things going forward.
“It gives our players some confidence that we can be a really good team,” Berkley said. “Even with some of those losses, they’re important as well because you get to learn a lot from losses sometimes as you would in a win. Overall, we had a good preseason.”
The Ramblers added seven new players to an additional nine returning players this season. They were able to use those preseason tournaments to not only get the new players some reps, but to also solidify the lineup.
During the Rambler Challenge Sept. 6-7, Berkley integrated three first-years into the starting lineup: outside hitter Addie Barnes, setter Katie Mather and middle hitter Taylor Venuto.
This rotation of first-years into the roster helped nail down a starting lineup mixed of new and returning players. The starting lineup stands as Mather, Barnes, Venuto, redshirt senior libero Maddy Moser, senior outside hitter Quinn Speiker and junior middle blocker Elle Van Grinsven.
“We have a lot of freshmen on this team, which is a great thing, but it’s playing next to new people,” Moser, 22, said. “So, we’ve been trying to figure out just how to play next to one another and play as a team. We’ve seen some of the issues we had at the start and we’ve learned to fix them and play with confidence.”
The lineup isn’t always the same, though. Depending on the day, someone else could be filling one of those six spots, but that doesn’t cause issues, according to Van Grinsven. She said the team is building off a solid foundation started in the preseason.
“It’s a good mix of people and team chemistry is just great right now, so it makes for a special environment for us to succeed as a team.”
— Maddy Moser, senior libero
“We have a lot of depth on our team,” Van Grinsven said. “So, if someone’s not performing their best on the night we can always sub somebody in, and one thing that’s definitely doing better as we went throughout preseason is our consistency. We started to find a standard for our team and if we keep building off that we should do really well.”
Now that MVC play has begun, the team has set goals it plans to attain. These goals include winning every match the team can, constant improvement and not peaking until the end of the season.
The Ramblers biggest goal is to finish at the top of the conference — a goal that isn’t just well-wishing, according to Moser. She said there’s something different about this team that makes her feel going all the way is something they can actually achieve.
“The vibe of the team is really good this year with the new freshmen and we’ve got some seniors with lots of good experience, too,” Moser, a nursing major, said. “It’s a good mix of people and team chemistry is just great right now, so it makes for a special environment for us to succeed as a team.”
The team was voted to finish fifth out of ten teams during preseason voting. But a consensus among the team was that the preseason rank didn’t have the whole outlook on their game play.
Both Moser and Berkley said with almost half of their team being new, no one knew what it would end up looking like, especially not the voters who haven’t even had the chance to see the team play.
Even then, Van Grinsven, 21, said rankings don’t mean much in the day-to-day aspect of the game. She said all that matters is who they’re playing in that moment.
“We know from last year that no matter who is above us or below us in the rankings. We have to take every night into account that you have to come out and play your best,” Van Grinsven said. “Because no matter who you’re playing on the other side of the court, it’s whoever comes out ready to play.”
The team is scheduled to continue conference play against Indiana State University Oct. 4 at 5 p.m. in Terre Haute, Indiana. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.