CHICAGO - Ahead 2-0 in the match, redshirt freshman Joseph Smalzer put on a serving clinic in the third and final set with four aces to go with a game-high 12 kills, as No. 12 Loyola blanks Juniata, 3-0 on Friday evening at Alumni Gym.
With the win, the Ramblers improve their winning streak to six straight matches, and move to 11-3 (5-0) on the season. The Eagles drop to 11-7 (4-0) with the loss.
Facing one of the finest opponents in Division III volleyball, Loyola was pushed at times throughout the match by an aggressive Juniata offense. By the end of the evening, however, the Ramblers showed why they have been jumping up the Division I rankings the past few weeks.
In the opening frame, the teams traded points until 4-4, when Smalzer fired a kill after receiving a perfectly placed set from Mike Hutz. At 13-9, the Ramblers would go on a 7-3 run to move the score to 20-12. Steve Thompson followed the next point with a kill to give Loyola a nine point lead. At set point, the Eagles took the service, but fired the serve straight into the net, giving the Ramblers a 25-14 first set win.
In set two, the Ramblers struggled to find early points from their frontline, allowing Juniata to gain momentum. The Eagles offense took advantage, posting three unanswered kills to take a 10-6 lead. Loyola didn't panic, however, as Dainis Berzins began the comeback effort with a pair of kills, taking the frame to 17-17. As the teams battled late in the frame, Loyola broke through at 26-25, when Eric Daliege fired a middle ball straight down on the Eagle's side, providing the home team a close 27-25 set win.
In the third and final frame, Loyola changed its strategy, but also found instant offense from Smalzer, who already had two service aces on the evening. At 8-7, the redshirt freshman took the service and fired three straight aces to give the Ramblers an 11-7 lead. Ahead two points at 18-16, Smalzer again managed an ace, improving his set total to six. With Juniata struggling to find consistency late in the frame, Loyola turned up the attack, with Berzins and Smazler adding back-to-back kills, as Loyola took the final frame, 25-21.
Smalzer posted a career-high six service aces in the match to lead the Ramblers. The total was the sixth best performance by a Rambler in school history. Daliege fired seven kills and Berzins added six. Hutz contributed 18 assists and two service aces of his own. The senior now has 94 career aces, moving him into sixth place all-time in the Loyola record book.
Loyola hits the court in less than 24 hours when they welcome St. Francis to Alumni Gym. Match time is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST.