Loyola outlast Pepperdine, dispatches UC San Diego to notch perfect weekend

Loyola's Collin Mahan bursts through with a back row attack. Four of Mahan's 18 kills came in the fifth and deciding set. (Tim Hackett//Medill)

Tim Hackett
Medill Reports

Ramblers Improve to 5-1 by Winning Five-Set Thriller Over Waves, Sweeping Tritons

A pair of wins at Gentile Arena this weekend reinforced why Loyola Men’s Volleyball is one of the best teams in the sport. The #7 Ramblers improved to 5-1 in the 2019 season by outlasting the #5 Pepperdine Waves in a five-set thriller on Friday, before following that up with a comprehensive sweep of UC San Diego on Saturday.

Pepperdine looked the part of the #5 team in the nation in the opening frame Friday. With the score level at eight apiece, the Waves rattled off a 10-2 run to take a lead they never relinquished. Michael Wexter finished things off with a cross-court kill to hand the visitors a 25-17 set one win.

The service game made the biggest difference in the first frame. Loyola gifted Pepperdine six points on service errors, against just one ace, while the Waves recorded three aces and got Loyola out of system often.

“The way that they were serving the ball… It’s like, ‘How are you serving it that well, missing so few of them?’” Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said. “It made it really tough for us early to kind of find rhythm. You know, we weren’t really even playing volleyball – they had 17 points and they took nine swings. Which is all to say, as we started to find some rhythm, as we started to play, as we started to kind of engage each other a little more, embrace the crowd maybe a little bit, I think we found our legs, and it started to come together.”

After that somewhat sloppy first set, the top-ten showdown was as good as advertised. After being held off the scoresheet in the opening stanza, Chicago native David Wieczorek erupted for five kills in the first half of the second to push the visitors out to a 12-10 lead, but the Ramblers fought back to level things up at 20 apiece. Pepperdine fought off three set points, but back-to-back kills from Paul Narup and Will Tischler gave the hosts a 26-24 win.

Loyola answered Pepperdine’s comprehensive set one performance with one of its own in set three, hitting a sparkling .565 to walk away with a 25-17 decision. Feeling the pressure, the Waves surged back in the fourth, using a balanced attack – and six more Loyola service errors – to win 25-22 and send things into a fifth set.

The decider went back-and-forth at first. Garrett Zolg notched an ace to stake Loyola to a 3-0 lead, but then Wieczorek rattled off three straight kills to level the score. Collin Mahan, Loyola’s best outside hitter, was at his best in the closing stages, picking up four of his season-high 18 kills in the final frame to push his team ahead, but it was fitting that it was Tischler who closed out the match by slamming a Zolg set into the middle of the back row for a 15-9 Loyola win. Tischler recorded his fourth-career double-double with 20 kills and 12 digs, both of which tied career-bests.

“It’s great and all, but I’m just out there playing volleyball for the boys,” Tischler said. “Getting career highs, and double-doubles and whatever is awesome, but I’m just happy we won, whether I was able to play or not.”

The Ramblers didn’t have much time to enjoy what was technically an upset win over Hulse’s alma mater as they welcomed the UC San Diego Tritons to Gentile Arena the next night. The Tritons received votes in the previous week’s AVCA poll and were looking to rebound from a sweep at the hands of Lewis, another top-ten team, the night before.

Instead the Tritons ran into a Rambler team that was clearly still buzzing from its win the previous evening. Luke Denton had a killer first set for the home team, notching four kills from the right side and adding three aces to help Loyola to an 11-4 lead in the first set. The Ramblers took over the first set Saturday, notching six aces in the opening period against zero from the Tritons. Fittingly, the first set ended on a service error from UCSD’s Berkeley Miesfeld, and Loyola snagged a 25-20 victory.

Middle Kyle Piekarski produced a near-perfect Saturday night, recording 10 kills with just one error on 11 swings. Most of his work came in the second set, as he and Tischler combined for five kills to push Loyola out to a 13-7 lead. UC San Diego got a few back through its top outside Wyatt Harrison, but Piekarski notched three more kills down the stretch and Loyola cruised to a 25-15 win.

The third set was the tightest of  tussle. Neither team led by more than two until Loyola went on a 6-1 run to open up a 15-11 lead. Mahan had been held in check by the Triton defense, but he once again got going in the game’s final set, ripping eight of his team-high ten kills in the third set and finishing off the Tritons for good with his second ace to seal a 25-16 Loyola win.

“I think what this has done is given us a progressive reminder that we’ve just gotten really good,” Hulse said. “Like tonight, it might not be perfect offensively. We didn’t kill 20 balls every set, but we figured out a different way to do it. I think that takes some resilience to figure out it might not always go the way you want. Can you be fluid and figure out a different way to get a win? Hopefully that prepares us to win two or three different ways.”

If they want to extend this five-game win streak into next weekend, the Ramblers may well have to find a few different ways to win. Loyola will next go west to take on CSUN on Friday night and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, two teams that were ranked in the top 12 of this week’s poll.

Photo at top: Loyola’s Collin Mahan bursts through with a back row attack. Four of Mahan’s 18 kills came in the fifth and deciding set. (Tim Hackett//Medill)