The No. 12 Loyola men’s volleyball team (18-9, 11-3) closed out one of its most successful seasons on April 20 after losing in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) semifinal match to Purdue Fort Wayne.
The Ramblers season was packed with excitement, success and some adversity. The team returned for its first match in Gentile Arena since 2019 after playing in the Alfie Norville Practice Facility for the 2021 season, which added a new-level of excitement for the team as well.
Though it ended earlier than the team had hoped, head coach Mark Hulse said he doesn’t want the semifinal loss to Purdue Fort Wayne to define his team’s season.
“We just dealt with so much,” Hulse said. “We dealt with the injury stuff Cole went through and Parker, we kind of leaned on a young guy all year and that’s not easy to do all the way until the end. [We also had] a tough conference this year, the conference was very deep. For us to be 11-3, if you told us that in the beginning of the year, especially with Cole being out, I think we would’ve said that’d be okay.”
The team lost redshirt junior outside hitter Cole Schlothauer — a key player at the net — to a thumb injury after the first two matches against the University of Hawaii, which set him back just over a month. While Schlothauer was out, redshirt first-year Parker Van Buren stepped up to help fill his teammates shoes and made an immediate impact on the court.
Van Buren had the best breakout year in recent program history, only comparable to Thomas Jaeschke, a member of the 2015 National Championship team. He ended the season totaling 389 kills — a team best — along with 18 service aces and a .339 hitting percentage. He was named MIVA Offensive Player of the Week four times and was recognized by Off the Block three times as Freshman of the Week and an All-American in February.
Schlothauer returned to Loyola’s lineup during its first match against Ohio State University on February 17, where he registered five kills and hit a .286. He picked up where he left off after his injury and bounced back in the next match against Ball State University with 17 kills.
Another individual who not only made an impact throughout this season but in the last five years is redshirt senior setter Garrett Zolg.
As one of the team’s oldest and most experienced players on the team, Zolg led his team with 889 assists, 35 service aces and 188 digs. He hit above .700 twice this season, the first against King University and the second against Lindenwood University in the quarterfinals — both registering at .750, some of the team’s best numbers this season.
Five Ramblers earned all-conference honors, three first-team and two second team All-MIVA. Van Buren, Zolg and Schlothauer made first team and outside hitters redshirt senior Henry Payne and redshirt junior Andrew Lyons made second team. Van Buren was also named MIVA Newcomer of the Year to round out his season accolades.
Overall, the team had one of its best conference seasons in recent history ending with a record of 11-3 and beating all but one team in its conference, McKendree University. The team dropped out of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll for three straight weeks but came back at No. 14 after beating then-ranked No. 14 Ohio State and then-ranked No. 7 Ball State in back-to-back matches. After returning to the poll, the team continued to be ranked for ten straight weeks.
The team is only losing three players this year, but they happen to be some of its best. Redshirt Seniors Zolg, Lyons and Payne will not be returning next year after their player eligibility at Loyola will come to a close.
Hulse addressed each of his departing seniors and said the group left the program better than they found it. He said Zolg is special to him in that he was one of the first players he recruited when he started coaching at Loyola, but Payne and Lyons also had a big impact in just the two and three years the both of them spent on the team.
“We leaned on them pretty hard,” Hulse said. “They did what they needed to do and they have a lot to be proud of. We said thanks and we said I’m sorry. I wanted this for them and I thought they did enough work to deserve it.”