The Loyola University men’s volleyball team (1-0) hit the ground running with a win to open the year over Lincoln Memorial University Jan. 22.
Even after a nearly 11-month hiatus from NCAA play, the Ramblers were able to shake the dust off to win against Lincoln Memorial 3-1.
Last season, Loyola stumbled to a 7-11 record, in part due to injuries and the abrupt cancelation of the season March 12 due to COVID-19. That was the first time in the program’s 25 year history the team failed to produce a winning season. After the match, Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said he was optimistic about the team’s prospects for this season.
“We have a really good practice environment right now, really competitive, and so we’re getting to see it day-to-day,” Hulse said. “There’s just guys not letting [other] guys get down after they hit balls out of bounds, [reminding them] that you just have to kinda stick to your stuff, and just remind each other of the fundamentals and the small things.”
Against Lincoln Memorial, Loyola jumped out to an early 19-11 lead in the first set before the Railsplitters narrowed the gap. The Ramblers managed to fend off the Railsplitters to grab the set 25-21, thanks largely to the four kills — including the set-winner — from junior opposite hitter Luke Denton. Denton finished with 17 kills on the night, the second-highest mark among players.
“There’s always a thousand things you can get better at,” Denton said. “We’ll talk with the coaches and work on improving, there’s a lot we know we need to do.”
The Ramblers fell in the second set 25-23, as errors coupled with a few runs made by Lincoln Memorial kept Loyola behind. The Ramblers were able to close out the match later on, winning the final two sets 25-20 and 25-21 to secure their first win of the 2021 campaign.
Having senior setter Garrett Zolg — who missed all of 2020 due to injury — was key to the Ramblers win, as he was the only setter to touch the ball for the Ramblers during the match. He tallied 46 assists, five blocks and two kills. Like the rest of his teammates, Hulse said he was happy to see him back out on the court.
“Guys responded pretty well to that,” Hulse said. “We didn’t talk about [the fact that it was his first game back] but it’s been a while every game we hope he’ll keep getting better as he finds his legs.”
Despite last season’s struggles, Loyola was picked to finish second in the 2021 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association preseason poll. However, Hulse said he thinks the conference will be very competitive this year and his squad has to show it belongs.
“Our league is tough, every year we think our league is good,” Hulse said. “There’s six teams if not all eight that could legitimately hold up the trophy and it’s going to be ugly. We have to earn the right, the rankings are the rankings but we’ll see. We’ll get to work.
The Ramblers are slated to host Queens University Jan. 23 at 3 p.m. That match is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN3.