Kaitlyn Jasnica | Off the Block special contributor
ROMEOVILLE — It kind of felt unfair.
Loyola outside hitter Collin Mahan crushed the pipe at Lewis libero Michael Simmons. Julian Moses jabbed at it to keep it alive and seconds later Mahan got a second stab. Ryan Coenen and Simmons both dove on the floor to keep the play going. Lewis got a solid dig, and Matt Yoshimoto dished out a perfect set to Moses who lit it up cross court.
That was the story of the match.
The Ramblers (21-8) could have put a wall at the net, but it would not matter.
Lewis (25-5) walked into the gym like the 2015 squad that reached the NCAA Tournament finals. The Flyers refused to even entertain a comeback, and dominated in a 25-17, 25-18, 25-19 victory for the MIVA championship and a NCAA Tournament bid.
“The guys played incredible,” Lewis coach Dan Friend said. “I became a fan. All of the things we’ve been working on, to see your team play that level of volleyball. Loyola is a great team, and I think we were just playing really well tonight in all facets of the game whether it was offense or defense or serving. I got to sit back and watch my guys play at a high level.”
Loyola’s Mahan (nine kills) and Paul Narup (five kills) were named all-tournament. Garrett Zolg added 23 assists, while Avery Aylsworth had 10 digs and Will Tischler (eight kills) and Kyle Piekarski (seven kills) put up offensive numbers.
“We were hitting the shots we wanted to hit and they were just making some amazing plays out there,” Mahan said. “Sometimes it’s your day.”
Lewis was unstoppable.
Lewis out-did Loyola in every category — blocking (14-2), kills (40-32), hitting percentage (.459%- .118%), digs (31-26) and assists (36-31).
Moses, the tournament MVP, and Coenen, all-tournament, both tallied 10 kills and hit above .300. Yoshimoto also earned all-tournament and dished out 35 assists while having four blocks and five digs
Middles TJ Murray and Tyler Mitchum dominated at the net with five and six blocks. And what got past the block, Simmons and the back row kept the ball alive.
“First-ball contact is the biggest thing,” Coenen said. “We served the crap out of the ball and put them out of system so we got so many blocks and good touches. One of our focuses is getting those digs nice and high to the net so Yosh can run that offense.”
The Flyers also were on fire because they finally have their lineup.
Opposite Mitch Perinar was out for a majority of the season with a back injury. Now that he’s back, the offense is more spread out and the team is firing on all cylinders. Perinar tallied eight kills, a .438 hitting percentage and three blocks.
It looked like a completely different team from even March. The seniors attribute the change to maturity.
“We’d have these amazing plays and lose points where we shouldn’t have,” Moses said in regards to previous years. “We’re mentally stronger. It’s the maturity. We really were just tired of having that happen. We’ve made a lot of sacrifices throughout the year and cut out things that weren’t helping us. We found ways to get the best out of every personality on the team. From top to bottom, it was a revamp.”
No volleyball is perfect, but Lewis could not have been better Saturday. It’s the type of play the Flyers need to bring now to the tournament.
“Our conference once again is putting forth a really good team in the NCAA tournament,” Loyola coach Mark Hulse said. “Lewis will represent us well and I think we have a good streak where our league has put forth really good teams that are competing and have won national championships. Lewis will be no different in that regard.”