The No. 2 seeded Loyola men’s volleyball team is preparing for its second Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament matchup against the No. 6-seeded Purdue University Mastodons on Wednesday April 20. The Ramblers swept the No. 7-seeded Lindenwood Lions in the quarterfinals on Saturday April 16 in three sets to continue their playoff journey.
This is the team’s fourth semifinal appearance in the last four seasons, along with its second semifinal matchup against the Mastodons since the 2018 season. The two teams met twice during the regular season and Loyola won both matches, almost attaining a clean sweep. The team’s current record against Purdue Fort Wayne is 6-1, which gives them the leg-up walking into its third matchup of the year.
Looking at the teams, Loyola has multiple statistical advantages over Purdue Fort Wayne. Loyola has an overall record of 18-8 and a conference record of 11-3 over Purdue’s 16-12 overall record and 6-8 conference. The only MIVA team Purdue beat that Loyola lost to was McKendree University.
Outside of the MIVA, Purdue hasn’t had any matches against ranked teams whereas Loyola had two — previous No. 1 University of Hawaii and previous No. 8 Grand Canyon University. Though they were both losses, the matches gave the Ramblers a chance to find their weak spots and make needed adjustments to their game plan, head coach Mark Hulse said.
Overall, the Ramblers hold a .038 higher hitting percentage with a .310 vs. Purdue’s .272. Individually, redshirt junior outside hitter Andrew Lyons holds the highest hitting percentage of a starter on both teams with a .467.
Purdue tops Loyola slightly in overall kills and individual kills with a team total of 1322 kills, led by junior opposite Jon Diedrich with 408.
The Mastodons also had four players make All-MIVA teams, two first team and two second team. Senior libero Troy Gooch joined Diedrich on All-MIVA first team while middle blockers sophomore Bryce Walker and junior Rico Wardlow took All-MIVA second team.
Loyola also has some standout players that give them a leg up in the matchup. The biggest weapon the Ramblers hold is redshirt first-year opposite Parker Van Buren, who put up some of the team’s best numbers since the 2015 National Championship team with a total of 372 kills, 17 aces and a .338 hitting percentage.
Racking up four MIVA Offensive Player of the Week honors — two of them back-to-back — three Off the Block Freshman of the Week honors and one Off the Block All-American February selection. Van Buren topped off the regular season by making All-MIVA First Team. His average of 14 kills per game and strength offensively gives Loyola an undeniable edge against Purdue.
Another player in Loyola’s arsenal is redshirt senior setter Garrett Zolg. In his fifth year with the Ramblers, Zolg currently leads the team with 843 assists, 33 service aces and 177 digs. He was named the MIVA Defensive Player of the Week once this season and made All-MIVA First Team along with Van Buren and redshirt junior outside hitter Cole Schlothauer.
Topping off Loyola’s advantages over Purdue is its current ranking at No. 11 in the AVCA poll. The team has been ranked in the top 15 for nine straight weeks while Purdue has yet to be ranked this season.
Hulse said his team will continue to prepare at a high level for the upcoming match as they did for the quarterfinal.
“We’ll go hard,” Hulse said of the preparation. “We’ll go hard in practice Monday, Tuesday and get better as best we can be and then go battle it out Wednesday in hopes that [we] get to do it again on Thursday.”
The players also know what they need to do in order to prepare. Redshirt senior outside hitter Henry Payne said recovery is key along with watching film to see how the team’s opponent is playing.
Sophomore middle blocker Jimmy Meinhart said rest and recovery is important but he and his team can’t take too much recovery time.
“We can’t be taking it super easy,” Meinhart said. “We’ve gotta be getting out there and really focusing on getting better, especially wrapping up things that will make us good against [Purdue].”
The team faces Purdue Fort Wayne on Wednesday April 20 at 7 p.m. in Gentile Arena to continue its playoff journey. The broadcast information has yet to be announced.