The No. 11 Loyola men’s volleyball team (13-6, 7-1) is off to an almost undefeated first half of its conference play in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA). The team has pulled off multiple upsets against highly ranked teams and has also entered back into the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Top 15.
The Ramblers entered their season in the AVCA at No. 7 after coming off the 2021 season 15-6 overall and 9-5 in conference. They’ve already beaten all but one team in the MIVA — falling only to McKendree University after a four set battle, but are set to rematch on March 24.
Earlier in the season, Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said he knew the upcoming MIVA matches were going to be tough for his team due to the fierce competition within the conference. Redshirt senior setter Garrett Zolg also said his team was practicing harder than ever before, but he knew the hard work would pay off.
So far, Zolg’s predictions have been right.
The team’s 6-1 start is the best they’ve had since the 2019 season when Loyola went 12-2 in the conference. Though the team’s success may look impressive, Hulse and the Ramblers said they knew they had a winning team.
“[Our success] has definitely translated well to games so far,” redshirt junior outside hitter Cole Schlothauer said. “We’ve definitely been working on some things that we needed to continue improving, we really never stop improving throughout the year.”
Schlothauer added his team is specifically working on their serve and pass, also putting an emphasis on their blocking at the net.
Another weapon the team holds is its redshirt first-year opposite hitter, Parker Van Buren, as he’s off to an almost unrivaled start in his debut season. As a four-time MIVA Offensive Player of the Week in this season alone, Van Buren adds a competitive edge to the team that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Hulse said Van Buren acts as an anchor to the team, especially with his consistency on the court. Hulse said he’s a reliable player each game and can cover multiple parts of the court when he wants to sub in guys to different spots. With Van Buren’s coverage, Hulse said it helps balance the team out.
Though Scholthauer, Van Buren and Hulse said they’re enjoying their success in the conference so far, their work is far from over as there are multiple MIVA matchups before the tournament later this season.
As they head into the second half of MIVA play, there are mixed emotions between both players and Hulse.
“We definitely have a little more confidence,” Van Buren said. “It’s nice having the experience especially as a redshirt freshman, the second half of the MIVA conference will be a lot easier on the nerves for sure. I’m looking forward to just relax and play volleyball with all my friends on the court, so it should be fun.”
Alternatively, Schlothauer said he thinks the second round of MIVA play will be even harder because the teams are out for revenge now. He said the competition might be harder, but he thinks his team is in a good spot to take everyone out the rest of the way.
Even with the team’s success so far, Hulse said he never wants to be complacent. He said he’s learned from past years that he would focus too much on scouting the opponent because his team is in a good spot. This year has been all about risking change, because it often leads to success after weathering the hiccups along the way, Hulse said.
Hulse also said he knows anything could happen at any moment in this conference. Though his team was up in the match against McKendree, he said the Bearcats fought back and won it, which reflects just how unpredictable the MIVA teams can be.
“We’ve got to keep trying to get better,” Hulse said. “I think being aware that teams scout better and better as the year goes on, we know more about them, they know more about us, and so we try to know ourselves but also be able to kind of counterpunch our own tendencies as we go.”
As they prepare for their rematch against the one team they lost against, McKendree University, Hulse said it’s important for his team to stay healthy and focused on protecting home court for the remainder of the regular season.
The Ramblers travel to Lebanon, Illinois on March 24 to face the McKendree University Bearcats in their second matchup of the season. First serve is set at 7 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN+.