After winning over No. 3-seeded Missouri State University and No. 7-seeded University of Northern Iowa (UNI) April 2, the Loyola women’s volleyball team (11-8, 8-8) is on its way to its first-ever Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship April 3.
The No. 6-seeded Ramblers’ win against Missouri State marked the team’s first conference tournament win since 2012. The team now advances to take on No. 1-seeded Illinois State University in the championship game. The Redbirds head into the game off an eight-game win-streak and have the home court advantage as the tournament is hosted in Normal, Ill.
In the quarterfinal match against Missouri State April 1, Loyola sophomore middle hitter Taylor Venuto made a team-best 18 kills and career-high 10 blocks. She helped the Ramblers take a six-point lead in the first set that eventually led to a 25-22 win.
Although Venuto contributed to a 7-1 run that helped Loyola take the second set with a .302 attack percentage, the Ramblers eventually fell in the third set 25-21.
The Bears quickly took a 12-5 lead in the fourth set, and although Loyola battled hard at the end to come within two points, they couldn’t secure the victory. Missouri State held back the Ramblers to win 25-21 and force a fifth set.
Senior middle blocker Elle Van Grinsven kicked off a 7-2 run for Loyola which eventually led to a 15-11 win. This 3-2 victory marks the Ramblers’ first-ever MVC Tournament win.
First-year libero Grace Hinchman made 37 digs, only one shy of her season-high and the fourth-highest single-match total in program history.
In the semifinal matchup with UNI, Loyola was able to get the job done in just four sets. Three Ramblers put up double-digit kills — Van Grinsven led with 14 followed by sophomore outside hitter Sarah Murczek with 13 and first-year outside hitter Emily Banitt with 11.
Loyola kicked off the first set with a 9-1 run started by Venuto and Hinchman and held the lead to win 25-17. The Ramblers are 10-1 this season when they win the first set.
The Ramblers took an early lead in the second set, but it wasn’t enough to hold off UNI — the Panthers went on a 10-3 run that would lead them to a 25-17 victory.
Although Loyola trailed 19-16 in the third set, Banitt kicked off a 5-0 run to put the Ramblers back up, eventually leading to a 24-24 tie. With a kill from Murczek and help from Van Grinsven and first-year setter Jenna Appel, Loyola pulled ahead for a 26-24 win.
Van Grinsven helped the Ramblers overcome a four-point deficit with two kills late in the fourth set, but the Panthers came back to lead 23-20. However, Loyola was able to secure the 25-23 victory thanks to more kills from Venuto and Van Grinsven and some UNI hitting errors.
Illinois State heads into the April 3 championship game after losing only one set in the tournament — the Redbirds secured a 3-0 victory over No. 8-seeded Indiana State University April 1 and a 3-1 over No. 4-seeded Bradley University April 2.
The Ramblers are scheduled to take on Illinois State April 3 in Normal, Ill. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.