Projected preseason top 10 national rankings: No. 9 Loyola

Loyola is projected by Off the Block to be No. 9 in the preseason national rankings.

Off the Block throughout December will reveal its projected men’s volleyball preseason top 10 national rankings and will profile a top-10 team each day. The Off the Block projected preseason rankings were created independently of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Top 10 Media Poll.

The college men’s volleyball season begins on Jan. 3 and concludes with the Final Four in May.

Check out what to know about Loyola as it enter the 2012 season.

Coach Shane Davis has six starters from last season returning for the upcoming season, including 2011 First-Team All-MIVA outside attackers Mike Bunting and Joseph Smalzer. Bunting also was the 2011 Off the Block Fan Choice Player of the Year, while Smalzer was the 2011 MIVA Freshman of the Year. The only starter the Ramblers lost from last season was all-conference setter Mike Hutz, who graduated. Matt Mirick, a former high school All-American, will open the season as the team’s new starting setter. In addition, Loyola added freshman Cody Caldwell. The outside attacker was among the nation’s top high school recruits and was named the 2011 Volleyball Magazine High School Boys’ Player of the Year.

The Ramblers ended the regular season in second place in the MIVA and advanced to the conference tournament championship match. This was the second consecutive season that Loyola lost to Ohio State in the MIVA championship. Despite the postseason loss, the Ramblers won more than 20 matches for the second straight season and finished ranked in the top 15 coaches poll. In addition, Loyola in non-conference play upset then-No. 2 BYU and won a road match against Cal State Northridge.


Loyola will open its season at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational with a match against Long Beach State on Jan. 6. This is the first time in recent years that a Midwest team has traveled to the West Coast to compete in the two-day non-conference tournament. Long Beach State ended last season in the top 10 of the national rankings. For more on the Ramblers upcoming schedule, check out the team’s complete schedule breakdown.

Off the Block: Coach, your team last year was one match short of winning the MIVA title for the second straight year. How do you feel your chances are in 2012 of winning the conference championship?

Shane Davis: Yeah, the last couple of years we were in running for it for sure, and I think we are in that top-tier group of the conference. Who is number one [in the MIVA], I have no idea. We are playing good volleyball right now, and we want to be number one at the end of year. Ohio state and Lewis are going to be right there. In addition, Ball State and IPFW always field good, competitive teams. … It’s going to be a dog figth for the MIVA.

OTB: You’ve come close to winning the MIVA the last two years. Have those MIVA championship match losses been a big source of motivation for your team this off-season?

SD: We have a lot of those guys returning here who were on those teams, and they have a chip on their shoulder after falling a little short the last two years. And the new guys are hungry. I’m excited to see how it will play out this year.

OTB: You signed outside attacker Cody Caldwell, who was one of the top high school recruits in the nation. What role is Caldwell going to play on the team this upcoming season as a freshman?

SD: One of things that is great is that we are deep this year. At the pins and [at outside attacker] we are deep. … The last few years we have continued to develop that depth. Cody is in the mix to be one of the team’s hitters, and I’m excited to see what he can bring. He’s a special athlete. He’s a freshman and there are still some things that we need to work on, but he is a special athlete.

OTB: This season your team is opening with a West Coast road trip and then traveling back out to California for another road trip in March. Can you talk about your non-conference schedule and playing so many matches this season against the MPSF?

SD: It really works out great to be out there for the start of season. We will be able to mix the lineup a lot and see where they stand and take that and evaluate where they are with everyone in the nation. And we’ll be back out there in March and will re-eveluate after that trip. It’s exciting for a lot of our guys being from California, and we recruit heavily out there.

OTB: A change for your team at home this season will be playing at the Gentile Arena instead of Alumni Gym. How do you feel about your new home arena?

SD: I think there are going to be a lot happy opposing coaches [not having to play in Alumni Gym]. Gentile Arena is a great atmosphere and a great arena. There is a lower bowl section and it’s the perfect volleyball setting. There are more speakers at this arena than at the United Center where the Chicago Bulls play. The seats aren’t as close as Alumni but still close enough to get that great fan experience and there is a video board. It’s a special arena and it’s a place where we hope to host a national championship in a few years.