Massive season opener set: Loyola to play host to UC Irvine

Photo courtesy of Loyola athletics

Loyola isn’t wasting any time in the 2019 season playing a marquee non-conference match.

The defending co-MIVA regular season champions announced on Sunday that it will play UC Irvine in its season opener on Jan. 4 in Chicago.

The Anteaters ended last season earning the final berth to the seven-team NCAA Tournament. In addition, UC Irvine were ranked No. 5 in the season’s final Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Media Poll — two spots higher than Loyola.

Among the UC Irvine starters returning next season includes All-American middle attacker Scott Stadick and All-American opposite Karl Apfelbach. Apfelbach also had a match-high 22 kills while hitting .444 as UC Irvine in non-conference play during the opening week of the 2018 season beat Loyola in four games.

Despite the early-season loss, Loyola went 5-3 against MPSF and Big West teams. Two of those non-conference wins were on the road versus top-10 ranked teams.

The Ramblers have two All-MIVA starters returning from last year’s team that reached the MIVA Tournament finals, including setter Garrett Zolg. The Freshman All-American and 2018 MIVA Freshman of the Year ended last season seventh in the country with a 10.32 assists per game average and guided the Ramblers to a .308 attack percentage.

Loyola is 6-4 all-time versus UC Irvine.

This will be the first time since 2014 that the Anteaters will travel to play a road match against the Ramblers. Loyola in that season opener defeated then-No. 1 UC Irvine and ended the season winning their first NCAA championship in program history.

The season-opener will be Loyola’s first of six non-conference matches against West Coast opponents during the opening month of the 2019 season.

Loyola will have home matches versus Pepperdine on Jan. 18, UC San Diego on Jan. 19 and the 2018 NCAA Tournament finalists UCLA on Jan. 31. It also will travel to the West Coast for matches against CSUN and UC Santa Barbara.