Almost 20 years since joining the MIVA, Loyola is finally conference championships.
The No. 2 seed Loyola rallied from a one-game deficit on the road to defeat the No. 1 seed Lewis 23-25, 25-23, 10-25, 25-22, 15– on Saturday in Romeoville, Ill., to clinch the program’s first MIVA championship and first trip to the four-team NCAA Tournament.
Loyola had three players finish with double-digit kills, including outside attacker Joseph Smalzer who had a match-high 20 kills in the victory. In addition, freshman outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke had 15 kills, while outside attacker Cody Caldwell added 10 kills.
Despite Lewis out-hitting Loyola .345 to .243, the Flyers were unable to repeat as conference champions in front of a sold-out home arena.
Outside attacker Eric Fitterer led Lewis in the loss with 16 kills and all-conference outside attacker Geoff Powell had 15 kills.
Loyola in the fourth game trailed by as many three points but rallied to tie the score at 16. Smalzer and Jaeschke combined for five of Loyola’s final nine points as the Ramblers were able to win the game and force a fifth game.
The Ramblers in the decisive fifth game opened out a 4-1 lead and led by as many as eight points in its decisive fifth game victory. In addition, Loyola had a .600 attack percentage in the fifth game.
Loyola in the third game was held a match-worst -.130 attack percentage as Lewis won by 15 points to take a one-game lead in the match. The 15-point loss was the Ramblers
Smalzer, the 2013 MIVA Player of the Year, led all players with six kills in the second game to help Loyola even the match at 1-1. The senior and 2013 Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Player at 24-23 also had a game-winning ace.
Lewis opened the match on a 6-2 run had a match-best .583 attack percentage in the victory. The Ramblers were able to cut the Flyers lead down to 23-22 but a kill from Petty and a game-winning kill from Fitterer secured Lewis’ opening game win.
With this loss, Lewis becomes the second straight defending-MIVA champions to lose in the conference championship. Lewis upset the defending champions Ohio State last last in the MIVA Tournament championship match.
Loyola will advance to play in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday in Los Angeles.
The NCAA Tournament field, including the Ramblers semifinal opponent, will be announced at 3 p.m. (EST) Sunday. The latest Off the Block bracketology projections has Loyola as the No. 4 seed for the NCAA Tournament.