Sights high: preview season volleyball for men

As the spring semester begins, so does a new wave of sports seasons. Loyola’s men’s volleyball team has returned to Gentile Arena for the 2022 season with their sights set on success.

After the first game against the University of California Irvine was canceled, the team went to Hawaii to face the reigning NCAA National Champion, the University of Hawaii. The team suffered two losses on the road, but Loyola head coach Mark Hulse said the losses helped them identify some flaws in their system.

Redshirt junior Cole Schlothauer and junior Colton Brooks – both outside hitters – said the games against No. 1 Hawaii gave their team an important insight that could help them prepare for upcoming games.

“Hawaii showed us some of the areas where we were a little weaker,” Schlothauer said. “They were really on top of it. I think we’re going to try and steal some of those things and hopefully see him again at the end of the year.”

Hulse also made notes about what he wants his team to improve upon. An overarching theme that his team believes is focused on is continuous self-improvement. He said Hawaii was a perfect opportunity to keep in mind that with every game you want to get better and better, win or lose.

Despite starting the season with two defeats, Schlothauer and Brooks said they are confident going into this season with their team because of their team chemistry and how well they fit together on and off the field.

The team returned to Gentile for the first time in 650 days on January 14, where they faced Saint Francis University in their home opener, where the Ramblers won in a three-game sweep.

In October, the team went on a retreat at the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus (LUREC). Brooks said they were able to bond and get to know each other on a deeper level.

The team’s trip to Hawaii was another opportunity to further strengthen the team’s chemistry. With all 22 players traveling, Hulse said it was a big help to the team, especially the five freshmen.

“Nothing brings you together like traveling when you’re together — it took us 23 hours to get there,” Hulse said. “The guys have all this time to loosen up and act a little weird together. That’s where the group really came together.”

Schlothauer and Brooks also said the players always hang out in their apartments or outside of training, which has helped them grow closer as a team.

The players are not the only ones with confidence going into the season. Hulse also said that this season’s team has depth, which is a privilege. With five freshmen and 17 returning players, he said there is a great mix of talent on the team, which has led to some positional battles between the younger and older players, something attributed to the team’s tougher and more sloppy practices. .

One of the biggest changes from last season is the team’s return to Gentile Arena after COVID-19 restrictions, something they said they were excited about. Only a small number of the team’s athletes have played in the arena, including Schlothauer. While he has had the chance to play on the team’s home turf, he said he can’t wait to get back with his team and have fans back too.

Brooks, on the other hand, never had the chance to play in Gentile before the January 14 and 15 games.

“In my first year we had fans, but I wasn’t on the track that year,” Brooks said. “Just playing with a bunch of people cheering us on will hopefully feel really good. And I mean, Gentile is our home, and we’ve talked about how much more aggressive we can feel super comfortable in the gym where we play most of the time.”

Hulse, Schlothauer and Brooks all said they are looking forward to the challenging teams they will play all season. Hulse said they have a “good but tough” schedule so they will have to work hard for every win – and while it will be challenging, Hulse said they have the pieces to win every night.

Difficult games in the coming weeks for the Ramblers include No. 5 Long Beach State University, No. 6 Grand Canyon University and their MIVA rival No. 7 Lewis University.

One player who has seen Hulse move up is sophomore winger Parker Van Buren, who had standout games in his first two appearances with Gentile, scoring over .500 on January 14 and over .400 on January 15.

“I think this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Schlothauer. “I think we have a real chance and I think we need to win the conference championship. And then I think we have a real chance to do something cool after that, and get a National Championship or even win it.”

The team will return to the field on January 21, where they will face Belmont Abbey College at Gentile Arena. The first service is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.

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