Coming off a second-place regular-season finish, the Loyola women’s volleyball team (2-1, 1-1) started its season with a pair of five-set wins but fell to Valparaiso University 3-1 in its most recent game Feb. 1.
The first win came Jan. 25 against Valparaiso to start Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play. The Ramblers followed that up with a win over non-conference foe Butler University Jan. 29. Like all Loyola men’s and women’s volleyball home matches this season, Loyola’s first two home games were played in the Alfie Norville Practice Facility.
Loyola won the first two sets against the Crusaders, including a 25-9 win in the second set. However, the Ramblers weren’t able to put Valparaiso away in the third set, losing 25-23. The Crusaders won the fourth set by 10 points to force a fifth.
Valparaiso scored the first two points of the final set, but Loyola rattled off a 6-1 run to take the lead on the way to winning 15-10.
This was the Loyola’s first win in a season-opener since 2015.
After the Jan. 25 match, Loyola head coach Amanda Berkley said she was impressed with how her team played against a unique opponent. Berkley mentioned how the Crusaders played without a setter which was really unusual.
“Valpo definitely has a unique playing style,” Berkley said. “I think they had some players out so it was going to be a difficult match just to try to defend a different offense where they don’t have a setter. But [the Crusaders are] really good at it.”
After the win over Butler Jan. 29, Berkley’s first words were, “Wow, what a match.”
Loyola led the Bulldogs 2-1 after the first three sets, but Butler dominated early in the fourth stanza en route to winning 25-20 and forcing a fifth set.
The Bulldogs also jumped ahead early in the final set, leading 10-5. But Loyola stormed back to win the set 17-15 and take the match.
“They did a really nice job of just taking it one point at a time,” Berkley said about her team. “Even when they’re down 10-5, they’re not panicked. … I think they did a good job of being composed and still being aggressive in those moments.”
After the game, senior middle blocker Elle Van Grinsven said the team felt “energetic” following the victory.
“It feels super good, especially like winning a game like that, five sets and super neck-and-neck the whole time,” Van Grinsven said.
The Ramblers lost in four sets in the rematch against the Crusaders Feb. 1. This time the two teams faced off in Valparaiso, Indiana. The Crusaders narrowly won the first set 27-25 and took a commanding lead by winning the second set 25-18. Loyola prolonged the match by winning the third set 25-22, but Valparaiso put the game away in the fourth set, winning 25-21.
Through the first three matches, sophomore outside hitter Sarah Murczek leads the team with 49 kills. She’s also second on the team with 55 digs.
Loyola was picked to come in third in the MVC preseason poll, behind first-place University of Northern Iowa and second-place Illinois State University. Valparaiso was chosen to come in seventh out of 10 teams in the MVC preseason poll, while Butler was picked fifth out of five teams in the Midwest Division of the Big East.
Sophomores Addie Barnes and Taylor Venuto were both selected to the 2021 All-MVC Preseason Team. Venuto, a middle hitter, tallied 28 total kills between the three matches — the third-best mark on the team. Barnes, an outside hitter, didn’t play in any of the Ramblers’ first three matches due to a stress fracture in her ankle. Berkley said she’d be out for at least a couple weeks.
The Ramblers are slated to travel to Southern Illinois University for a pair of matches Feb. 7-8. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 7 and 3 p.m. Feb. 8. Both games will air on ESPN+.