After falling to second place in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) standings as of Oct. 28, the Loyola women’s volleyball team is keeping its eyes on retaking first place.
The Ramblers came out of the gate hot and started the season 6-0 against conference opponents, including victories against Valparaiso University and Southern Illinois University.
Loyola head coach Amanda Berkley said the key to the Ramblers’ early success has been their ability to adapt offensively and switch up rotations. So far in MVC play, Berkley said she was impressed with how the young hitters on the team played against one of the better defenses of the season like Northern Iowa University and Illinois State University.
Despite losing to Northern Iowa University Oct. 21 in a match that determined the first seed in the MVC, Berkley said the team rebounded well after its defeat.
“I think the [team] is motivated and they’ve watched some film and I think they’re definitely excited about the next half of the conference season,” Berkley said.
To start conference play, the Ramblers went 6-0 before falling to Illinois State Oct. 18 for their first MVC loss of the season. After a win over Bradley University Oct. 19 and after their loss to Northern Iowa, the Ramblers fell to second in the MVC standings.
In the 2019 preseason coaches poll, Loyola ranked fifth out of the 10 teams in the MVC. After being projected to be fifth in the MVC, the Ramblers have exceeded expectations and jumped to second place in the MVC with a legitimate shot at retaking first place, according to Berkley. After a disappointing 4-14 MVC record in the 2017 season and 8-10 record in 2018, Berkley said everyone is excited to show what they can do.
With Northern Iowa in first place with an 8-1 conference record and Illinois State in third with a 6-2 record, Berkley said there’s no easy path to first place but the team is ready for the challenge. 2012 was the last time the Ramblers had a winning conference record, when they went 8-6, and Berkley said the team has come a long way since then.
“We belong in that conversation and we just have to make sure we are competing and playing well,” Berkley said. “We got a little bit stressed and we just have to make sure we’re playing loose.”
First-year outside hitter Addie Barnes said there were a lot of takeaways from the team’s match with Northern Iowa and Loyola looks forward to improving for its next match against them. Barnes said the team won’t coast on its success as every MVC opponent poses a challenge.
“That top half of the conference, all of the teams are pretty good, whoever we face will always be a challenge,” Barnes said. “Obviously, Northern Iowa is a very good team, but I think every good team we face in the MVC is going to be a challenge so we’ll just have to come ready to play.”
Senior outside hitter Quinn Spieker, a marketing major, said underclassmen players like Barnes and first-year setter Katie Mather have far surpassed everyone’s expectations. Spieker said Barnes and Mather have done a great job handling the pressure of conference play and excel at communication on the court.
“Talking is a big part of it for sure and we always try to limit our communication errors,” Spieker said. “[The younger players] are not quiet players by any means so every time they have an opportunity they [succeed].”
Barnes, a communications major, said Mather and senior setter Delilah Wolf have been key in the Ramblers’ ascension to the top of the polls. Barnes said there is a lot of talent on this team and it all starts with sharing the ball and getting everyone involved.
“They have a variety of sets they can do and they know how to switch it up at certain times which is very nice, they have a very good volleyball IQ,” Barnes said.
Loyola is scheduled to continue its season Nov. 1 when it takes on University of Evansville at Gentile Arena. First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3.