The Loyola men’s volleyball team was in the midst of a four-game losing streak, after it lost to rival Lewis University 3-1 — which was its longest losing streak since 2013. Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said something within the team needed to change with regard to chemistry and communication.
The Ramblers fell into a slump as they averaged 25 errors per match during their losing streak, which is an increase from their 17.41 errors per match season average. This increase in errors showed issues with positioning and communication between setters and hitters. Communication starts from the top down, according to Hulse, and it’s the responsibility of the more experienced players to lead everyone through the struggles that are sure to come with MIVA play.
“We’ve lost a few and it’s forced us to be internally focused and say, ‘Hey, what do we need to do better,’” Hulse said. “The conversation is about consistency in communication and the eye-contact and [recently] it has looked so much better.”
The second half of Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) play didn’t start off how Loyola had hoped, but Hulse said the team has remained resilient and focused regardless. He said the sting of losing can hurt any team, but the team has been working hard in practice to limit errors and increase the level of chatter on the court.
Hulse said Loyola needed leaders to step up and take command if they were going to steer the ship in the right direction. Since then, Loyola has won back-to-back games against nationally ranked opponents No. 15 Ball State University and No. 13 Purdue University Fort Wayne.
The locker room after Loyola’s second loss to Lewis on the season was a quiet and bitter scene, but everyone came out of it stronger, according to junior setter Ian Cowen. He said the team needed someone to rally around, and senior libero Avery Aylsworth was someone who stepped up to fill that leadership role.
“Consistently before every play, [Aylsworth] is always talking to people about their responsibilities and making sure they know what’s coming at them and how to defend it,” Cowen said.
As the libero, Aylsworth takes command of the defense and positions everyone on the court. On-and-off court communication between teammates begins and ends with Aylsworth, according to Hulse. Before games, the team says a prayer and then jumps up and down to hype itself up, according to Aylsworth.
“We go into one of the locker rooms or a side area and say a Jesuit prayer and then we also jump around a lot to try and get loose to play as free as possible,” Aylsworth said.
In Loyola’s first win since the losing streak, senior opposite hitter Dane LeClair led the way for Loyola with 10 kills and six digs in a 3-0 win over No. 15 Ball State University. Hulse said everyone on the floor looked sharper and more focused and he said the team is beginning to figure out what it takes to win.
Because of the high standards the Ramblers set, Aylsworth said consecutive losses can be tough to take but it has done nothing but bring the team together.
Prior to this losing streak, the Ramblers hadn’t lost more than two games in a row since 2013 and Aylsworth said the team doesn’t focus on the negatives, but rather looks ahead to improve in the next practice.
Cowen said everyone has doubled their efforts in practice to improve consistency in positioning and communication. He went on to praise everyone’s work ethic as the team continues to put in work to steer the ship in the right direction.
“We’ve been consistent throughout these past four games even throughout the beginning of the season,” Cowen said. “We’ve always been taking each game one game at a time.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to continue their season March 28 when they take on McKendree University at Gentile Arena. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN3.