After being postponed from the fall due to COVID-19 concerns, the Loyola women’s volleyball team capped off its spring 2021 season with its first-ever trip to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship. Now, the team is set to head right back into action this fall with four tournaments before MVC play.
With a full season ahead, junior outside hitter Addie Barnes — who was sidelined in the spring due to an injury — said she’s appreciated getting to play so quickly after the previous season and having less COVID-19 restrictions. In the spring season, the MVC volleyball teams were required to wear masks in-game but so far will not be required to this fall, according to Loyola Athletics.
Loyola was ranked third in the fall 2021 MVC Preseason Poll, but head coach Amanda Berkley said it’s not a big deal to her since a lot of things can change during the season. She said she believes the Ramblers’ key to winning this fall will be in their serving and passing.
“Just making sure that we’re serving tough,” she said. “And as long as we can pass it, I think we can do some really good things offensively.”
The Ramblers begin their regular season with the Golden Dome Invitational Aug. 27-28 in South Bend, Indiana before hosting the Loyola Tournament at Gentile Arena Sept. 3-4. From there, the team will travel to Manhattan, Kansas Sept. 9-10 for the K-State Invitational before finishing off non-conference play in Evanston for the Chicago Cup Sept. 17-18.
Junior middle hitter Taylor Venuto said she’s most excited to play the Chicago Cup this year because the Ramblers will get to compete to be the best team in the city against University of Illinois-Chicago, Northwestern University and DePaul University.
Barnes said she’s looking forward to the matchups with MVC team Illinois State University, who Loyola fell 3-1 to in the spring 2021 conference championship game.
“We always are challenged by them,” Venuto said. “I think we play really competitively against them and it’s always a good time.”
Although the Ramblers will be without Elle Van Grinsven — the now-graduated middle blocker who ranks third in Loyola history with 374 total blocks — three first-years will help add depth to the team’s fall 2021 roster.
Berkeley said the incoming class has made the team more competitive, but each of the first-years have also brought something different to the Ramblers — right side hitter Esma Ajanovic is left-handed, outside hitter Olivia Lovett is more quiet but has a strong arm and setter Lane Jenkins has been a natural leader so far.
“We were down a setter, so we definitely needed a setter,” Barnes said. “[Jenkins has] actually been a starter and she’s definitely brought a lot of energy.”
Berkley also highlighted veterans who she thinks will make an impact this year, including sophomore libero Grace Hinchman, senior outside hitter Sarah Murczek, Barnes and Venuto.
During the spring 2021 season, the Loyola volleyball teams played matches in Loyola’s Alfie Norville Practice Facility, giving them a different space from the basketball teams during a semester when all their seasons overlapped. Now, the volleyball team is returning to Gentile, and with fans allowed back in the stands.
“It definitely helped us with our energy on the court,” Barnes said about having fans at the team’s exhibition game Aug. 21. “When it was silent it was just on us to bring the energy, and having other outsiders help us just helped everyone.”
The Ramblers will begin the season with a matchup against Oakland University at the Golden Dome Invitational in South Bend, Indiana Aug. 27. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. CT.