April 28, 2013
Romeoville, Ill. - Junior Joe Smalzer drilled four of his match-high 20 kills in the decisive fifth set to lead Loyola to its first-ever Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament title as the Ramblers knocked off Lewis, 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 10-25, 25-22, 15-7), tonight at Neil Carey Arena in Romeoville, Ill. As a result, Loyola advances to the NCAA Championship for the first time in program history. Lewis' season ends with a 20-10 record.
"I could not be more proud of a group of guys as I am with these guys tonight," said head coach Shane Davis. "We really persevered through some periods where the match was not going our way and found a way to get it done."
After four eventful sets, the teams found themselves in a sprint to 15 to decide the title. A Lewis service error gave Loyola the opening point and kills from Smalzer and Nick Olson gave the Ramblers a 3-0 lead. Back-to-back kills from Thomas Jaeschke made it an 8-4 game at the changeover but Lewis responded with the next two points to get within a pair, 8-6. A service error slowed any momentum that the home team had accumulated and Cody Caldwell followed with a kill, prompting a Lewis timeout. The Ramblers still led 11-7 before finishing strong. Another Caldwell kill gave LU service and Smalzer promptly killed an over-pass to make it 13-7. A Jeff Patton ace gave the Ramblers a handful of championship points but they needed only one, as another strong serve gave LU a chance and Smalzer's 20th kill sent the visiting fans into rapture.
The dramatic finale came after four captivating sets. Loyola struggled to find its rhythm early and Lewis took advantage, racing out to a 6-2 lead in the opening set. Smalzer ripped consecutive kills to get the Ramblers within a point (8-7) but a kill and an ace later from Eric Fitterer bumped the lead back to five, 15-10. Loyola was slowly able to chip away at the deficit and eventually pulled within one (21-20) on a Smalzer kill. However, Lewis was able to side-out the rest of the way, drawing first blood with a 25-23 win.
The second set was a game of runs and the visitors jumped out to a 7-4 lead after consecutive Jaeschke kills. Lewis battled back to forge a 10-10 tie and later moved out to a 17-14 lead after two LU hitting errors. Two Smalzer kills plus one each from Olson and Eric Daliege accounted for all the points in a four-point scoring run on the serve of Dainis Berzins to give the Ramblers the lead back and they took a 21-19 lead on a Lewis error. After the Flyers pulled even at 23, Smalzer pushed the Ramblers to the finish line, first with a kill and then a service ace on set point to even the match at intermission.
After Lewis scored 18 of the last 22 points to take the third set 25-10, Loyola dug deep in the fourth frame. Two Rambler errors helped Lewis to an early 4-1 lead and the Flyers still held a 10-6 lead, forcing LU to spend a timeout. Loyola started to chip away and eventually pulled even at 13 on a Caldwell/Olson block. Consecutive blocks moments later from Olson and Peter Hutz gave the away side its first lead of the set (16-15) and Smalzer had back-to-back kills later to give the Ramblers a 22-18 edge. Lewis would get no closer than two points the rest of the way, with a Flyers foot fault and another service error giving LU the final two points.
Loyola saved its best offensive stretch for the fifth set as the Ramblers hit .600 (10-1-15) in the final frame to finish at .243 for the match while Lewis slugged away at a .345 clip.
Smalzer, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led everyone with 20 kills. He was joined in double figures, and on the all-tournament team, by Jaseschke (15 kills, 14 digs) and Caldwell (12 kills, 12 digs), while middles Olson (nine kills) and Daliege (eight) also contributed. Hutz guided the offense with 50 assists and added 10 digs of his own.
Loyola will find out its opponent tomorrow afternoon when the NCAA unveils the pairings. The selections will be revealed on ncaa.com at 2 p.m. with the National Semifinals being contested on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.