The Loyola women’s volleyball team (22-10) lost an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament when it fell to Illinois State University 3-2 in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament Nov. 27.
Loyola entered the tournament as the No. 1 seeded team after securing the MVC regular season title, going 14-4 in conference play and 22-10 overall. This was the first time the Ramblers have grabbed a regular season title since 2002, when Loyola won the Horizon League regular season title.
Before the tournament, Loyola head coach Amanda Berkley spoke to the hard work the team has put in throughout the season.
“A lot of work has gone into it,” Berkeley said. “Every year, we’ve gotten a lot better… It just means a lot. I think that this team, it’s like the sky’s the limit for them if they continue to work on their mental game and physical game.”
Berkley was named the MVC Coach of the Year after leading the team to its best record since 2004 when the Ramblers last captured 22 victories.
Friday, Nov. 26
The Ramblers started the weekend by defeating fourth-seeded Valparaiso University in five sets during the semifinal round of the tournament Nov. 26. Valparasio entered the matchup 12-5 in MVC play.
The Beacons took the first set after going on a four-point streak and the Ramblers weren’t able to rally. Loyola tried to put the pressure on Valparaiso, getting within one point thanks to a scoring stretch of 4-1 from junior middle hitter Taylor Venuto, but the Beacons ended up capturing the set 25-23.
Loyola tapped into its defensive potential in the second set as the team’s six blocks helped the it secure the set 25-19. A 3-0 scoring run from Loyola aided in the Ramblers’ set victory.
The Ramblers seemed to lose their momentum in the third set as the Beacons went on a 6-1 run to take the lead 11-7. Despite the deficit, sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Watson contributed a pair of kills to put the Ramblers back in the set, which they ultimately won 26-24.
Valparaiso came back to take the fourth set 25-18, forcing a fifth set. Loyola took an early 6-4 lead in the final set, but the Beacons were able to come within one point of the Ramblers.
Sophomore outside hitter Emily Banitt stepped up in the eleventh hour, logging her eleventh kill of the match to send Loyola to the MVC championship game for the second season in a row with a 15-13 set victory.
Venuto led the Ramblers with 13 kills, while first-year setter Lane Jenkins recorded 30 assists and sophomore defensive specialist Grace Hinchman brought in 26 digs.
Saturday, Nov. 27
Loyola wasn’t as successful in the championship game, falling to second-seeded Illinois State in five sets. The Ramblers are now 0-3 against the Redbirds in the tournament, also dropping a 3-1 decision in the 2020-2021 championship game.
Illinois State entered the match-up with a 12-5 record in MVC play and the odds were seemingly in Loyola’s favor as the first-seeded team. In MVC Tournament history, the first-seeded team has gone 20-4 in the title match and 46-6 all time in the tournament.
Loyola took the first set 25-17, which it closed out by going on a 10-4 run. Banitt and sophomore outside hitter Karlie McNabb contributed a combined five kills in the Ramblers’ set victory.
The Ramblers continued their winning streak into the second set with an extra points decision of 30-28. Loyola and Illinois State went back and forth on the scoreboard throughout the second set until a kill from junior outside hitter Sarah Murczek closed the set for Loyola.
Illinois State was unstoppable in the third set, scoring eleven of the first 14 points. The Redbirds hit a steep .615 to put them back into the competition and prevent a sweep from the Ramblers.
The Redbirds kept up their momentum into the fourth set, taking a 11-6 lead early on. Loyola managed to fight back to tie the set 13-13, but Illinois State’s offense proved too much to handle as the Redbirds fought to force a fifth set.
Loyola took a 8-5 lead in the fifth set, but couldn’t hold Illinois State back for long. The Redbirds put out a 7-2 scoring run to take the final set 15-13, preventing Loyola from seeing what would’ve been its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005.
Despite the loss, Loyola placed two players on the MVC All-Tournament team — Hinchman and junior outside hitter Addie Barnes. Additionally, three players were included on All-MVC teams for the regular season — First Team All-MVC players Venuto and Barnes and Second Team All-MVC player Barnes.
Looking to next season, Berkeley will expect to welcome back all but one player to the roster as the team prepares to join the Atlantic 10 Conference in the 2022-2023 season.