The Loyola women’s volleyball team (6-4) hosted the Kansas State University Wildcats in the second match of its home-opener weekend in a exhilarating Friday night faceoff, winning both matches of its day. Loyola is hosting its first tournament of the season Sept. 9 and 10 — the Rambler Challenge — featuring Kansas State University, Rutgers University and University of St. Thomas.
The first set got off to a hot start for the Ramblers with two kills by junior outside hitter Emily Banitt contributing to the team’s 3-0 scoring run. Loyola was able to hold off the Wildcats for most of the set, with a strong block game from senior middle hitter Taylor Venuto, who ended the night with eight digs and three service errors from its opponents.
Kansas State couldn’t get anything going in the first half of the set with multiple service and attack errors. Kayde Fernholz took charge at the net with some important blocks to help her team get back in the game and bring them within just a few points of the Ramblers. The Wildcats also took advantage of Loyola’s service and attack errors, which added up quickly and brought Kansas State to a tie after two Loyola set matches. Two attack errors by Venuto and senior opposite hitter Addie Barnes turned the set in the Wildcats’ favor, giving them the 26-24 win.
After the first set, Banitt said everyone had to readjust to get themselves back in the right headspace for the rest of the match.
“We started off the first set really well,” Banitt said. “We just needed to capitalize on that. So that was the main goal for the second set, to start fast and finish.”
The second set started similarly to the first, with a 4-0 scoring run by the Ramblers made up of two service aces by Barnes and kills by both junior middle blocker Anna Feldkamp and Banitt. Junior libero Grace Hinchman came up with some big digs for the Ramblers, notching two digs in the second set.
Kansas State fell behind early in the set and wasn’t able to make a comeback due to Loyola’s strong blocking and attack game.
Two back-to-back service aces from graduate setter Madi Corey made an impact late in the second set for the Ramblers, bringing them 14 points ahead at 19-5. Venuto was on her game at the net the entire night, with two blocks and a kill to secure her team’s second set win.
The third set got off to a more back-and-forth start but Barnes and Venuto proved their presence with kills. Barnes also began the set with her third service ace of the night, helping boost her team’s energy. The set stayed neck and neck, with the score staying tied for most of it.
Kansas State made a big adjustment to its blocking at the net which helped the team stay close to Loyola until the end of the set. Though the Wildcats amped their game up after a tough second set loss, back-to-back kills from Banitt and sophomore setter Bree Borum overpowered their effort. After a dramatic and drawn-out set, Loyola claimed it 25-23 after it challenged and reversed a call initially giving Kansas State the point.
The fourth set was in the hands of the Ramblers as their defense stayed hot. Hinchman notched a total of 23 digs throughout the match — three of them in the fourth converted into points. Venuto also kept up her work at the net with two crucial blocks, helping fend off the Wildcats’ scoring chances.
Loyola had a comfortable lead throughout the set, not letting Kansas State come within more than four points. Sophomore right side Esma Ajanovic keyed three kills that added to her team’s fourth set win, along with Murczek’s two and a block that forced a Wildcat timeout.
At match point, the crowd was on its feet and loud as Corey began to serve. Loyola was quick to end the night with a set-sealing kill from Feldkamp while the arena erupted in cheers.
Loyola Head Coach Amanda Berkley said she was proud of her team fighting through adversity after it suffered the incredible loss of a teammate’s mother to a year-long battle with cancer just days before the match.
“[It] shows how much depth we have that we can insert someone in and they’re ready to go and ready to play,” Berkley said. “So, just really pleased with the depth that we have and I think it just shows how ready we are for each match that we’ve got at all 18 (players) can go in and help us help us.”
Loyola will return to the court for its third match of the weekend against Rutgers University with just over 16 hours to prepare. Banitt said the team is focused on getting rest, watching film and being as ready as it can to take on its third opponent in two days. First serve is set for 2:30pm and will be broadcast on ESPN+.