After falling short of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) championship title last season, the Loyola men’s volleyball team (1-3) is coming back injury-ridden, but still hopefull
In its first game of the season, Loyola tallied a 3-1 win over King University Jan. 2, but without the only three returning starters — two-time All-MIVA First Team setter Garrett Zolg, middle blocker Kyle Piekarski and opposite hitter Luke Denton.
With the injuries plaguing the team, head coach Mark Hulse has set realistic expectations for the team. He said the main focus is to develop players and look ahead to future national championships, whether that’s this year or in the near future.
“We say the standard is on the wall,” Hulse said. “We want to compete for national championships. That’s why the guys decided to come here and get a great education and compete for a championship. So, that’s definitely where we’re headed. Where we go, when we get there, it’s not always up to us to decide.”
While Denton has returned to the lineup — playing in the Ramblers’s second game of the season — Piekarski is out with a concussion and Zolg is out indefinitely with what Hulse described as a “nagging” injury. He also mentioned there was no timeline to return for either player.
According to senior setter Ian Cowen, their absence has been missed as they both bring leadership to the team.
“They’ve both played at least a full season before this year,” Cowen said. “So, this year we started some brand new people. Just having their experience not with us everyday in the practice gym, it hurts.”
The pair’s injuries have allowed opportunities for other players to step in and take charge. Cowen has returned to the starting lineup after taking a back seat to Zolg the past two seasons.
He’s already tallied 98 assists this season. Both Hulse and redshirt freshman Cole Schlothauer have mentioned Cowen’s leadership presence.
“Ian is on top of everything on and off the court,” Schlothauer said. “He is the man. His nickname is ‘clutch’ and that’s because he’s always doing the right things at the right time for us. So, whether it’s been in the locker room or always making the great sets when we need him to be, he’s clutch.”
Cowen isn’t the only player stepping up. Hulse said Piekarski’s absence allows for two different middle blockers to get time on the court. First-year Anton Frank and redshirt freshman Danny Sutton Farwell have both seen minutes in the team’s opening games.
Frank and Sutton lead the team in blocks with 11 and nine, respectively.
“I think [all of the players] are working hard,” Hulse said. “They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t pretty good volleyball players. We’ve got some of them to really play and others that are working their way towards it as well.”
Schlothauer has had the opportunity to shine for the Ramblers. He led the team in its first game with 17 kills and eight digs. He’s also leading overall with 43 kills.
After sitting out last season, he said he’s had the opportunity to get comfortable with this team and be able to perform more confidently.
“I had a lot of time to get comfortable with Ian,” Schlothauer said. “Ian was my setter last year on the B squad and you know I’ve had a lot of time to adjust. [It’s] still a work in progress but just getting to know the guys that we’re playing with and getting adjusted is a lot of fun.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to play Jan. 17 against Penn State University at 7 p.m. in Gentile Arena. The game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago.