By Kristen Keller
Following a long weekend of travel, the Loyola University-Chicago women’s volleyball team returned to Gentile Arena to face Southern Illinois in a Missouri Valley Conference matchup Monday night.
Both teams were neck and neck throughout the entire match but, following all three sets, the Ramblers pushed to a 3-0 victory. Loyola continues to sit in fifth in the conference rankings while Southern Illinois has yet to secure a win in conference play.
“I’m really proud of the team for winning a kind of gritty match,” said head coach Amanda Berkley. “I wouldn’t say we played our best, but I think they made plays when it counted at the end.”
The match began with the Salukis at the service line, but that faded fast. A hitting error from Southern Illinois’s Emma Baalman gave the serve to Loyola’s Quinn Spieker, putting the Ramblers in the lead to start the match.
From there, the points went back and forth until the Salukis took the lead in the middle of the set. By the time Loyola called it’s first time out, Southern Illinois was up by two points.
But that didn’t stop the Ramblers. After going down four points in the last half of the set, Loyola came back swinging with middles Ella Van Grinsven and Heather Kocken leading the offense. The two finished the first set with five kills each as the Ramblers won 25-23.
Heading into the second set, Loyola setter Delilah Wolf started at the service line to begin the match.
Again, it was an even match, with neither vigilant team letting the opponent get more than two points ahead.
Long rallies and plays kept the action at the net, and the Ramblers continued to maintain the lead throughout the match, even if only by two points. By the time Southern Illinois used both of the team’s timeouts, the score stood 19-17 in favor of Loyola.
After that, the Salukis managed to even up the score, but Spieker played harder. The outside hitter finished off the game with back to back kills, ending the second set 25-21.
As the third set began, the Ramblers were up two sets to one on the Salukis. Both teams were out of system throughout the entire match, not performing well on defense, and making a lot of errors at the net. The winner of this match would be the team that cleaned up their game first.
And that team was Loyola-Chicago.
The Ramblers came out big in the third set with Spieker recording two service aces from the start. From there, libero Alex Nunez took over from the back line, going on a three-point serving run along with adding an ace to the stat sheet.
As the game progressed, neither team pulled away from the other. The Salukis closed the gap the Ramblers built, managing to take the lead when the media timeout came around. The two teams exchanged points up until Spieker made her way back to the service line at 21-19.
Once she started serving, Southern Illinois was unable to respond. The Salukis fell apart in the last four points, getting called on a double contact, being out of rotation on the serve receive, and hitting the ball into the block of Kocken and opposite Gabi Maciagowski.
With that, the Ramblers closed out the third set, winning 25-19 and sweeping Southern Illinois three sets to none.
Spieker led the way for the Ramblers, adding another double-double to her resume with 14 digs and 12 kills. She also served up four aces, which is her new season-high.
“Every play, there is an opportunity to do something when you touch the ball, so I try to make it my best,” Spieker said. “It’s been working out.”
Other Ramblers also contributed heavily to Monday’s win. Van Grinsven was second on the team in kills with 11 on the night. Wolf created the offense with 39 assists while Nunez notched 14 digs. Heading into tonight, Nunez only needed 135 more digs this season to reach 1,000 career digs, which she aims for as the season continues.
“I think it was good that we won this match,” Berkley said. “We’ve got to make sure that we execute a little better when we play Friday.”
Loyola-Chicago will be back on the court this Friday as they take on Valparaiso at Gentile Arena. Both teams look for a win to stay in the rankings and continue to fight for the six spots available in the conference tournament.
“This match was important to keep us in fifth place at the moment,” Berkley said. “Every match here on out matters and we’ve got to come focused and ready to play every time.”