The Loyola women’s volleyball team played in back-to-back games Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, which led the team to take a share of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season title, the first time the team has taken a regular season title since the Horizon League in 2002.
Although the two game homestand ended with a celebration, it started with a loss as Loyola fell just short in the fifth set at home Nov. 12 to a high-speed Bradley University offense. Head coach Amanda Berkley said she was proud of the team’s effort to battle back late in the fourth set and acknowledged the hard work and effort that the girls put in against the Bradley defense.
“[We] played well,” Berkley said. “We just didn’t put the ball right where we needed to.”
The Ramblers fought hard in the first set, falling short by just three points, but came out on fire in the second set, winning 25-23 as junior outside hitter Addie Barnes spiked the ball down on the Bradley court to even things up 1-1.
The third set was a back and forth battle from both ends of the court. Fierce spiking from junior middle hitter Taylor Venuto and Barnes helped tire out Bradley’s backcourt but the Braves ended up on top, taking the set 25-20.
However, Loyola fought back in the fourth set thanks to an offensive effort from the Maroon and Gold, ending with a score of 25-15 and forcing a fifth set. Despite efforts from the Ramblers to hold back the Braves, Bradley ultimately took the final set 15-13 to win the match 3-2.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Berkley said. “The turning point at the end was in the fifth set. I think we didn’t kill the ball where we needed to.”
Despite the loss, Barnes led the Ramblers with 19 kills and 25 points for Loyola, also tallying seven blocks and an ace.
Loyola continued its homestand when the Ramblers came out victorious over in-state rival Illinois State University during the team’s senior night Nov. 13. The win over the Redbirds — entering the game second in the MVC — clinched at least a share of the regular season conference championship for the Ramblers.
Loyola jumped out to an early lead to start the first set, going up 10-5. Off the back of an ace and a crucial kill by Barnes, Loyola seemed in control by the time the team reached a 17-11 lead.
However, the Redbirds roared back to tie the set at 20 and ultimately bring the set into extra points. This comeback proved too much for Loyola to handle as Illinois State took the set 28-16.
Illinois State carried the momentum from winning the first set into the second, jumping out to an early 7-2 lead, but the Ramblers were quick to strike back. Moves from sophomore outside hitter Emily Banitt and firstyear middle blocker Esma Ajanovic helped the Ramblers come back for a 25-22 victory.
Loyola continued its hot streak when the team took the third set 25-18, with junior outside hitter Sarah Murczek bringing in a pair of aces to contribute to the victory. On a two set win streak, the Ramblers remained focused in the fourth set to build a 13-4 lead.
While Illinois State continued to fight, the depth of the Ramblers proved too much for them as Loyola was able to make constant substitutions without losing strength on the court. Loyola ultimately outlasted Illinois State, winning the fourth and final set 25-18 with the help of some key Rambler blocks down the stretch. Immediately following the victory, Berkley joined the team on the court, as the players celebrated their victory.
Sophomore middle-blocker Anna Feldkamp, a big contributor to the Rambler victory with nine kills and seven blocks, said the team rallied back after losing a hard-fought first set.
“It was super tough to keep going for those extra points,” she said. “After we lost the first set we came right back and said we’re not going to do that again, we’re going to keep going and win this in four.”
The Redbirds have been a thorn in Berkley and Loyola’s side over the past few seasons, as they had lost 12 straight matches against Illinois State prior to Nov. 13. Berkeley said that beating them was great for the team’s confidence as postseason play approaches.
“Illinois State is a very talented team and they are very well coached and they’ve always been just tough for us to play,’’ Berkeley said. “This shows that we can beat them, we can compete with them and the best teams in our conference.”
Coming up next, the Ramblers will travel to Drake University Nov. 19 for a chance to claim the MVC regular season title outright. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and is set to be broadcast on ESPN+.