A big question of the Loyola men’s volleyball season has finally been answered. After 14 games, Loyola head coach Mark Hulse announced Feb. 21 junior setter Garrett Zolg will be missing this season due to injury.
Zolg, 21, has been a key player his previous two seasons and was named to the preseason All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) team before the 2020 season. When he didn’t play in the first couple games, people questioned his absence.
The junior exercise science major told The Phoenix he’s been dealing with multiple injuries — a heel injury and a knee injury.
Zolg said he wasn’t able to find out what was wrong with his heel — nothing turned up in MRIs or X-rays. Over the course of a couple months, he went from pain everyday to no pain for no apparent reason. He said it was “frustrating” not having a clear answer and “weird” that it just went away. But by the time the pain went away he had already made the decision to redshirt.
The knee injury was more clear cut. Zolg said he recently got a steroid shot that helped with the pain and has allowed him to play in practice more recently.
Despite the news just being announced, Zolg has been mulling this decision since November. He said there was no clear timeline with the injuries and he had already missed preseason practices. No one was sure when or if he’d get back on the court this season.
“I wanted to not be selfish,” Zolg said. “I wanted the group of guys that are going to be on the court to be able to jell together and not just be thinking [I’d return].”
Zolg officially decided to redshirt after he returned from winter break. Zolg said he still had pain, and he and the coaching staff had already discussed the situation.
Hulse said the decision was complicated because it was unclear when the injury would subside. It was hard to make the decision due to the “greyness” of the injuries.
“You don’t ever know how a guy is feeling physically,” Hulse said. “It’s hard to tell. Garrett’s a pretty tough dude. So, when he starts talking about taking the year … it really colored how bad he was feeling.”
Zolg broke the news to his teammates once practice resumed after the break.
“[I said], ‘Whatever I can do to help you guys, I’m gonna do it,’” Zolg said.
In Zolg’s absence, the Ramblers currently have a 5-10 record. That’s the team’s worst start in Hulse’s tenure — but he doesn’t know if losing Zolg is the main reason.
“I don’t have a crystal ball to know if him being out there impacts the game in a different way,” Hulse said. “But we always say we’re better when we’re all together.”
Zolg said the transition from starting setter to on the bench has been a difficult one. He said he’s not used to being a behind-the-scenes guy.
He said even though he’s not playing, he’s still motivated by his team. He’s taking on a new role to provide a strategic edge from beyond the court, besides cheering on the sidelines.
“I’m trying to dissect what the other team’s doing,” Zolg said. “Looking at what their system is and then … what tips and cues I can give our guys on what the other team’s given us.”
His absence has also allowed for senior setter Ian Cowen to return to the lineup. Cowen started his first year on the team, but then took a back seat when Zolg joined the team a year later.
Zolg said there hasn’t been any “beef” between the two players, despite the competition for the starting role. Zolg’s injuries have allowed Cowen to finish out his senior year in the limelight.
“I’m extremely happy that he’s getting this opportunity,” Zolg said. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around in any of my playing careers, super selfless guy.”
Since he’s sitting out this year, Zolg will get another year of eligibility at Loyola — which also means another year of school. Zolg said he’s lucky that Loyola has an exercise science master’s program. He’s planning on using his extra year to his advantage and gain a master’s degree.
“It does suck not being able to do what you love because you’re hurt,” Zolg said. “But I know deep down it was the right choice.”