Senior setter Ian Cowen hasn’t had a traditional path on the Loyola men’s volleyball team. Coming in three years ago, he entered the starting rotation, but the next year he spent more time on the bench than on the court.
Now in his senior year, he’s taking more of an active role. Since junior setter Garrett Zolg — who was named to the Preseason All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association team — is out of the lineup with an unspecified injury, Cowen has returned to his spot on the court after two years of being the second-string setter.
Cowen, 22, said since his first year on the team, he’s tried to portray leadership. His position on the court — and starting — allows him to be a better leader this season.
“[Leadership is] doing things the right way and bringing someone else along with you,” said Cowen, a math and computer science double major. “So, for me, I try to do what I would expect other people should be doing to make our team successful.”
Despite the team’s 4-9 start to the season, Cowen has already tallied 441 assists, averaging 9.59 per set — not as high as Zolg’s 10.87 average last season. It’s been a rough start to the season, but Cowen remains focused on improving. Cowen said it’s his teammates that keeps them from getting bogged down by the losses.
“There’s a sense of brotherhood for sure,” Cowen said. “We’re not just grinding through workouts and soreness and injuries. We have this sense of doing it for others.”
Cowen is up at 6 a.m. every day and in the gym for the next four hours. He’s often the first one there.
“Exactly what you need, exactly when you need it” is an Urban Dictionary definition for Cowen’s nickname, “Clutch.” Redshirt freshman Cole Schlothauer said it’s a moniker Cowen earned “always doing the right things at the right time.”
“Whether it’s been in the locker room or always making the great sets when we need him to be, he’s clutch,” Schlothauer said back in January.
Senior middle blocker Kyle Piekarski has played alongside Cowen since the beginning. Piekarski has been Cowen’s roommate for the past four years, which has allowed him to get a front seat to Cowen’s character.
Piekarski said off the court he’s “impressed” by Cowen and how put together he is and how he doesn’t slack off. It translates to him being a role model to the team, too. Piekarski told a story about at time Cowen noticed the room needed to be cleaned up. He grabbed a teammate and they did it together.
“It shows young guys what to do,” Piekarski said. “How to be a teammate. How to be a leader eventually.”
Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said Cowen’s resilience is what sets him apart from other seniors. Hulse said it could be hard for someone to go from starting one year and then sitting back the next two.
“He played the whole season his freshman year,” Hulse said. “[From] walking in freshman year and being able to lead the team throughout that year, working hard in practice gym to then needing him on the court again. He never stopped working hard, he’s back on it and hasn’t missed a beat.”
Both Hulse and Piekarski pointed toward Cowen’s communication skills as the biggest example of Cowen’s leadership. Piekarski said Cowen as the starting setter allows him to get people talking, looking at each other and correcting errors when he can.
For Cowen, it’s not about starting or sitting on the bench.
“Just being part of the team and having one common goal with the people around us is huge,” Cowen said. “Being able to reel people back in when [they’re struggling] and achieve that goal is something I’ve been working on.”