The Loyola men’s volleyball opened its season with a dominant 3-1 victory over King University Thursday night at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers were led by redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Schlothauer with a team-high 17 kills and eight digs.
Loyola entered the game ranked No. 11 in the American Volleyball Coach Association (AVCA) preseason poll and were picked to finish third out of eight teams in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) preseason poll. King was picked to finish second out of nine teams in the Conference Carolinas Preseason Poll but was unranked in the AVCA poll. This victory marked the third consecutive year the Ramblers have beat King.
“[We] served and passed pretty well,” Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said. “We kinda executed game plan wise pretty well. … It’s good to take this time to continue to be more comfortable with each other. We’ll put in some wrinkles [to the game plan], but we’re far away from wrinkles right now. We’re just trying to be more steady and more consistent.”
Loyola trailed 9-8 against the Tornado in the opening set, but the Ramblers went on a 17-5 run to win 25-14 and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
In the second set, the Ramblers once again found themselves with a small deficit early in the set — this time down 6-5. Loyola rattled off an 8-1 run and never looked back as the Ramblers took the set 25-17 to go up 2-0 in the match.
The Ramblers jumped out to an early 11-4 lead in the third set, but King fought back to win 25-22. Loyola still led the set score 2-1.
King carried the momentum into the fourth set, as the Tornado jumped out to an 12-8 lead over Loyola. The Ramblers fought back to take the lead 17-16 and wouldn’t trail again en route to taking the set 25-21 and the match 3-1.
King lost the match despite having one more kill and four more digs than Loyola. However, the Tornado accumulated twice as many service errors, finishing with 22 while Loyola managed only 11.
“The third set [and] fourth set getting to battle a little bit was good for us,” Hulse said. “The first two sets, [King] wasn’t quite there, but the next two they were ready to go. That was really good for our group that we need to get more battle tested as this year goes on.”
This was the first collegiate game for five of the eight Ramblers who played against King — Schlothauer and fellow redshirt freshmen Danny Farrell and Andrew Lyons as well as first-years Anton Frank and Taylan Cooks. Despite the roster turnover from last season, Hulse said the team wants to play stylistically similar to last year’s squad.
“[Hulse] is always telling to trust my stuff,” Schlothauer said. “The butterflies were going and I was a little nervous, but once I got out there, I trusted my stuff and my teammates were able to help pull me up.”
Loyola returns three starters from last season’s squad — two-time All-MIVA First Team setter Garrett Zolg, middle blocker Kyle Piekarski and opposite hitter Luke Denton — but all three players were out against King with undisclosed injuries.
There is no timetable for their returns. Piekarski is expected to return this season while it’s unclear whether or not Zolg will play, according to Loyola Athletics. Piekarski and Zolg were with the team on the bench, but neither player dressed in uniform. Also, neither player had a visible cast or wrap.
Next up, Loyola is scheduled to welcome AVCA Preseason No. 3 Brigham Young University to Gentile Jan. 3 at 7 p.m.