A six-match West Coast road trip to open the season and a home match against the defending NCAA champions Ohio State highlights the Loyola 2012 regular season schedule that the team released Friday.
Loyola ended last season No. 12 in the final coaches poll and lost in the MIVA championship match. The Ramblers have six starters returning for the upcoming season — including Mike Bunting, an All-American outside attacker and the 2011 Off the Block Fan Choice National Player of the Year.
Check out the five things to know about Loyola’s schedule for the upcoming season.
Five things to know about the schedule
1. Strong non-conference schedule
Loyola will have the toughest non-conference schedule of any team in the nation. The Ramblers have four scheduled non-conference matches against teams that finished last season ranked in the nation’s top 15 — Stanford, Penn State Pacific and UC San Diego. It also will play several top MPSF teams at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational to open the season. Along with these matches, Loyola in March has road matches against Cal State Northridge and the defending NAIA champions Cal Baptist. The Ramblers will play the most non-conference matches against MPSF teams of any EIVA or MIVA school. This is the second consecutive season that Loyola coach Shane Davis has created one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. Loyola last season went 1-3 against nationally ranked teams in non-conference play, including an upset home victory against No. 2 BYU.
2. Opening on the West Coast
The Ramblers’ most challenging stretch of matches will be within the first two weeks of the regular season. Loyola opens the season on a six-match road trip in California with three matches at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational followed by matches at UC San Diego, Pacific and Stanford. This is the first time Loyola will participated in the UC Santa Barbara. The two-day, three-match non-conference tournament will be comprised of several teams that finished last season ranked in the top 10 — including Ohio State, BYU, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. Along with these teams in the invitational, Stanford finished the 2011 regular season No. 3 in the coaches poll and defeated Loyola on the road last season. The Ramblers since 2005 are 5-8 in matches played in California.
3. Late MIVA push
Loyola’s chances of the winning the MIVA regular season title will likely depend on its performance during an 11-day span when it plays almost half of its conference matches for the entire season. The Ramblers will play five conference matches from March 20 to March 30. Three of these matches will be against Ball State, Lewis and Ohio State — which each finished last season in the top four of the conference standings. The Ramblers have finished the MIVA regular season in second place the last two season. Loyola last won the MIVA regular season championship in 2006 — its second conference title since joining the MIVA in 1996.
4. MIVA championship rematch
The defending NCAA champions Ohio State will travel to Loyola on Feb. 25 for the first meeting between the two teams since they played in 2011 MIVA Tournament championship match. Ohio State defeated Loyola in four games last season to capture its fourth consecutive MIVA championship and one week later became the first MIVA school to legally win the NCAA championship. The victory was also the second consecutive season that the Ramblers lost to the Buckeyes in the conference championship. Loyola’s annual home match against Ohio State has been among the highest attended MIVA matches in recent years. The Ramblers have had more than 1,000 people in attendance for their last two seasons, including 1,976 fans in 2010 when Loyola last defeated Ohio State.
5. New on-campus facility
After playing in Alumni Gym throughout its program’s history, Loyola will have a new home court for the upcoming season. The Ramblers will play their 11 regular season home matches at the newly renovated Gentile Arena. The modern, 5,200-seat arena will be a significant change for Loyola and its opponents. Alumni Gym was among the oldest gyms used by any Division I-II men’s volleyball team and was known for its low ceilings and dim lights. In addition, several opposing players and coaches often cited the facility’s unique conditions for why their team would struggle against the Ramblers at home. Loyola’s first regular season match at Gentile Arena will be against Carthage on Jan. 17.
Loyola regular season schedule
7 p.m. Jan. 2 vs. Windsor (Exhibition)
Jan. 6-7 at UC Santa Barbara Invitational
7 p.m. Jan. 11 at UC San Diego
9 p.m. Jan. 13 at Pacific
9 p.m. Jan. 14 at Stanford
7 p.m. Jan. 17 vs. Carthage
7 p.m. Jan. 20 vs. Penn State
7 p.m. Jan. 27 vs. St. Francis
7 p.m. Jan. 28 vs. George Mason
6:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at Ball State*
7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Lewis*
6 p.m. Feb. 17 at George Mason
6 p.m. Feb. 18 at NJIT
7 p.m. Feb. 24 vs. IPFW*
7 p.m. Feb. 25 vs. Ohio State*
7 p.m. March 2 vs. Quincy*
7 p.m. March 3 vs. Quincy*
9 p.m. March 7 at Cal Baptist
9 p.m. March 9 at Cal State Northridge
7 p.m. March 15 vs. King
4 p.m. March 17 vs. Limestone
7 p.m. March 20 vs. Ball State*
9 p.m. March 23 at Grand Canyon*
9 p.m. March 24 at Grand Canyon*
7 p.m. March 27 vs. Lewis*
6 p.m. March 30 at Ohio State*
7 p.m. April 4 vs. Lindenwood
6 p.m. April 14 at IPFW*
*Denotes MIVA match
All times CST