The Loyola women’s volleyball season is well underway with the team returning to play in Gentile Arena and three new players already making a splash on the court.
Joining the squad this season are three first-year players — opposite hitter Esma Ajonovic, setter Lane Jenkins and outside hitter Olivia Lovett. According to junior outside hitter Addie Barnes, these new additions provide a boost to the roster.
“We have a pretty versatile team,” Barnes said. “Lots of players can play everywhere so I think we’ll have some pretty good secret weapons. [The first-years] are all really great players — super loud and cheerful.”
Each of the first-year players fills a different position during gameplay and has already made a pronounced impact throughout the early season.
Jenkins recorded her first double-double in the maroon and gold by bringing in 29 assists and 10 digs during the team’s second victory of the Rambler Challenge tournament against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Sept. 3.
Lovett, a Lenexa, Kansas native, also brought in a double-double on the offensive end by contributing 11 kills and 13 digs against Oakland University during the team’s 3-1 victory at the Golden Dome Invitational Aug. 27.
Head coach Amanda Berkley said she thinks they’ve successfully integrated into the team.
“[Jenkins] has done a nice job of just being competitive and running the offense,” Berkeley said. “And [Lovett] is a really good sixth rotation volleyball player — she understands the game and does a nice job.”
Although Ajanovic hasn’t seen as much action as Jenkins and Lovett, Berkeley says the Skokie, Ill. native brings a unique element to the team.
“They’ve all come in and provided a lot more depth for us,” Berkeley said. “[Ajanovic] is coming in as someone different than what we’ve had in the past with a lefty arm swing.”
As a left-handed opposite hitter, Ajanovic is able to attack easily from the right side which gives the team a competitive advantage in their defensive attack.
Although they graduated high school in the thick of the pandemic, all three players committed to Loyola before the virus changed the way sports are played at Loyola and around the world.
However, they said that the pandemic didn’t affect their decision to play for Loyola.
“I love the campus and the coaches are amazing,” Ajanovic added. “It’s just a really good environment to be in. I feel like everyone’s included and just trying to make each other’s day better.”
The three new players have only been on the roster for four matches so far, but their integration into the preexisting team has already been easy for them, according to Lovett.
“We talked at the beginning of the season about how there would be no hierarchy,” Lovett said. “The seniors don’t have something over the freshmen, we’re all one team, we’re all in the same place.”
Unlike the new players who came to Loyola in the 2020-21 season, Ajanovic, Jenkins and Lovett are joining the roster in an increasingly open world and will be able to play in front of fans this season in Gentile.
“I feel like we’re in a spot where everyone wants to go out and support each other,” Jenkins said. “Now that we’re able to go out and watch games, I feel like there will be a lot of people in attendance.”
The Ramblers will play their next set of matches on the road at the K-State Invitational in Manhattan, Kansas Sept. 9 and 10. Their first matchup of the tournament is Sept. 9 against Eastern Kentucky University and will air at 12:30 p.m. CT on ESPN3.