LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Looking to return home with another win on its annual west coast swing, the No. 12 Loyola men's volleyball team played well early against No. 8 UCLA, but the Bruins regrouped late and won the final two sets to down the Ramblers, 3-2 on Friday evening in Los Angeles, Calif.
Loyola went 1-1 in California this week, and now sits at 13-5 this season. UCLA improves to 13-9 after winning its sixth-straight match. The Bruins are now 6-0 all-time against the Ramblers.
Loyola pulled ahead 3-1 in the opening frame off early kills from Joseph Smalzer and Mike Bunting. UCLA quickly responded with two points, but Bunting fired back with a pair of spikes to take Loyola’s lead to 7-3. Shortly after, Smalzer posted his 33rd ace of the year, increasing the Rambler lead to 10-5. At 17-11, the Bruins managed three-straight points to cut into the Rambler advantage. Loyola took the three-point lead to 22-19, only to see it vanish when UCLA’s Matt Hanley and Kyle Caldwell fired a kill, and a trio of Bruins blocked a Smalzer attack. The Ramblers answered back and earned set point, where Bunting powered a kill to the right corner to capture the frame, 26-24.
In the second set, UCLA adjusted its game plan and jumped out in front 7-5. Dainis Berzins mustered a kill a point later, but the Bruin frontline continued to find points, increasing the lead to 15-11. Trying to spark a comeback, Smalzer added two kills to cut the Bruin lead to four. However, UCLA marched forward to 20-13, and never looked back, finding kills from Hanley and Caldwell to win set, 25-18.
The teams swapped points early in the third set, before Loyola broke through with two Bunting kills to take to an 8-7 lead. UCLA stormed back with a 7-1 run, earning kills from Gonzalo Quiroga and Weston Dunlap to move ahead 14-9. At 21-16 in favor of UCLA, the Ramblers managed a comeback of their own, when Bunting blasted two points, and Steve Thompson and Eric Daliege picked up kills, evening the match at 22-22. As the teams traded points and the frame moved into extra time, Loyola gained set point and took advantage. Mike Hutz stepped up to the serving line and fired an ace, giving the Ramblers the set win, 26-24.
Loyola battled back and forth with UCLA until midway through the fourth set, when the Bruins gained the lead at 13-12. The Rambler frontline, along with Bunting, kept the team afloat late into the frame. The Bruins, though, took control the rest of the way, totaling five more kills and a team block to take the frame, 25-20.
In the fifth and deciding set, the home team earned a quick 4-0 lead, led by Quiroga with two kills. Loyola charged back and pulled within three to 8-5 off a middle kill from Thompson. The comeback effort was too late, however, as UCLA picked up its momentum and strung out three more kills, while adding a block and service ace to win the set 15-9.
In the hard fought match, Loyola picked up a fine effort from Bunting, who totaled a game-24 kills. He also added three digs and two blocks. Hutz totaled 45 assists and five digs. Smalzer finished the night with a dozen kills and eight digs.
The Ramblers will return home to Chicago to face George Mason on Friday, March 18 at Alumni Gym. First serve is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST.