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Tournament volleyball returns to Illinois

It has been 658 days since the 2019 girls volleyball state finals were held.

While matches have been held in the interim, major tournaments has taken a backseat.

Well, that void has since been filled.

In the first month into a “normal” season (The Delta variant has understandably made masks a necessity), Loyola has made up for lost time winning two tournaments in two weeks, their latest triumph being a 25-10, 26-24 win over previously undefeated Deerfield.

Not bad for nearly a two year layoff.

“Our early season success has been due to consistency and having a lot of depth on our team,” said Loyola head coach Mallory Thelander. “Everyone contributes, even the girls that are on our bench right now so I think that the depth that we have is why we’ve had so much success.”

Loyola earned their spot in the championship game by cruising through pool play by sweeping Hersey, Niles West, and Highland Park in straight sets.

Through the opening three contests, the Ramblers were led by Clemson commit, Mia McGrath who showcased her offensive, and defensive ability.

“We definitely rely on Mia a lot all the way around,” said Thelander. “Even when she’s lacking a little bit in the front row, she picks it up in the back row and has even led us in digs.”

On day two of the tournament, Loyola faced a bevy of Central Suburban League teams, starting with Glenbrook North. After a sluggish start which saw the Spartans take the first set, Loyola found their footing and rolled through the next two en route to the finals.

The Ramblers carried that momentum into the first set of the finals, where efficient production from their middles Catherine Burke (Five kills, one block) and Molly Powers (Five kills, six blocks) helped them cruise to a 25-10 first set win.

“Molly even does a great job of just closing the block,” added Thelander. “Even if she doesn’t get a block she’s closing down and getting good touches and our defenders know exactly where to go.”

Serve receive issues in the second set plagued the Ramblers, as Deerfield took a lead late in the set, but a timely block from powers, coupled with some key serves down the stretch carried Loyola to victory.

So what’s next for the undefeated Ramblers? Well not too much. Even after the early season success, we’re still a long way from playoffs and like any successful program, they’re taking it just one step at a time.

“I just want them to see them grow and improve every match and never be comfortable. We’ve dropped a couple of sets which I think is helpful for learning and growing, but not getting comfortable and complacent with being undefeated. “

Other musings:

  • We’ve said it so many times but volleyball is indeed a serve and pass game. Stay in system and keep your opponent out of system and you’re going to have success.
  • I thought that the lost season would set programs and competition a bit. But setters were much better than expected, front row players were taking powerful swings, and block timing was decent. The only skill that seems to be lagging behind is serve receive.
  • Sometimes you see a player for just a second and your first thought is “That’s a high major prospect.” Warren’s Ruth Ziegler certainly fits that build.  A 6’3″ sophomore with a really powerful swing, it’s actually quite impressive to see. Sill a bit of ways to go in regards to passing and defense, but for those that follow college volleyball, she reminds me of former Marquette player Allie Barber.
  • Loyola is certainly a tier above everyone else at this stage, but competition at the tournament was really strong. New Trier and Hersey were solid as usual, but teams like OPRF, Deerfield, Glenbrook North, and Deerfield have really improved over the past two years and could make some noise come tourney time.

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