Currently No. 1 the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) with a 9-1 conference record, the Loyola women’s volleyball team (16-6, 9-1) had a successful weekend facing two conference opponents at Gentile Arena.
Coming off a 3-2 victory Oct. 16 against Bradley University in Peoria, Loyola won in four sets against the Southern Illinois Salukis Oct. 22.
The game against Southern Illinois started with back-and-forth play in the first set with nine ties and three lead changes. The scoring began with a kill by sophomore outside hitter Nsia Gittens. Loyola then won its first point on a powerful kill by junior middle hitter Taylor Venuto.
Strings of important plays highlighted the rest of the set, including 16 kills by Loyola — six by junior outside hitter Addie Barnes and three by sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Watson. The Ramblers also made 18 digs in the set, with sophomore outside hitter Karlie McNabb and sophomore defensive specialist Grace Hinchman each had four.
With Southern Illinois fighting for every point, the Ramblers buckled down to reach set point. After a Southern Illinois timeout, Loyola won the set on a kill by Barnes, taking the first set 25-21.
Venuto said the team’s serving was key to winning the set, referencing an ace from sophomore setter Jenna Appel and only two service errors. She also said the team’s centers changed the set.
“If they are out of system, it is so much easier for our defense to know where the ball is going, and we can get a solid setup,” Venuto said. “Our centers did a great job varying where they were setting the ball, so the other team struggled to pick up our hits.”
In the second set, the Ramblers started off hot, going up 6-2 on a string of kills and Saluki errors. Southern Illinois surged back with kills by Alex Washington and Nataly Garcia to chip away at the Ramblers’ lead. Despite this, Loyola bested Southern Illinois on the stat line with 16 kills and five blocks.
While Loyola stayed on top the entire set, the Salukis crawled back due to Loyola errors and kills by Garcia and Washington. Ultimately, Southern Illinois’ resistance was not enough, and Loyola won the set 25-23.
In the third set, errors by Southern Illinois lifted Loyola to an early 5-2 lead, but the Salukis struck back fast, securing a 7-6 lead — their first since the first set — off an attack error by sophomore Kelsey Watson at 7-6.
Washington extended the Saluki lead to 14-9 with a pair of kills and a service ace. The Salukis maintained their lead for the rest of the set — finishing with a service ace by first-year setter Anna Jaworski to win 25-16.
In the fourth set, Venuto excelled with four kills and an ace. Late in the set, the Salukis roared back with three straight kills to cut the Rambler lead to 23-19. On game point, the Ramblers finished the match with a kill from sophomore middle blocker and right back Anna Feldkamp, winning 25-21.
Venuto said she owes her offensive success to the team’s passing. She said her setters were giving her perfect one-on-one situations to send balls flying over the net.
Head coach Amanda Berkley said she was proud of her team for coming back after a flat third set. She said service pressure was key to the team’s rebound in the fourth set.
“I think to be able to gut out a win when we aren’t playing our best says a lot about this team,” Berkeley said. “It’s one thing we’ve talked about is that we are able to control matches, whether good or bad.”
The Ramblers continued their winning streak Oct. 23 with a 3-0 clean sweep against Missouri State led by Barnes, allowing the team to celebrate victory while celebrating Hinchman’s birthday.
Barnes and sophomore middle blocker Anna Feldkamp ramped up the offensive momentum, scoring nine points for the team in the first set.
After Missouri State rallied to bring the set to a 20-20 tie, three consecutive points from Venuto and McNabb sealed the win.
The Ramblers kept their hot streak going early in the second set, dominating the Bears and carrying a comfortable eight-point lead. Missouri State crawled back into frame with six points in a row, bringing the set to a tight conclusion.
Barnes served a one-two punch with a kill and a block assist with Venuto, with the team officially saved by a serving error from Missouri State tipping them to the needed 25 points to win the set.
Rolling into the third set off two close matches, the Ramblers began the third set at a deficit. Not losing their momentum, the team sprang back to life with a seven-kill streak led by McNabb and Barnes.
As the lead ping-ponged between the teams, Venuto provided a kill and a block assist with sophomore outside hitter Emily Banitt to clear the third set.
The Ramblers are slated to take on Indiana State University next in Terre Haute, Indiana, Oct. 29. Broadcasting details have yet to be announced but the matchup is set for 5 p.m.