CHICAGO - Despite a dismal start in the first set, the No. 12 Loyola men's volleyball team fought back against a block happy Ball State team, making key plays all game long, especially in the fifth and final set to win the Senior Day event and final regular-season match at Alumni Gym, 3-2 over the Cardinals on Friday evening.
Loyola moves its 2011 record to 18-6 overall and 8-2 in the MIVA. The Ramblers are now 20-18 all-time against Ball State. The Cardinals drop to 16-10 (6-5 MIVA) with the five-set loss.
In front of a packed Alumni Gym crowd, Loyola got off to a slow start, as the visiting Cardinals marched out to a 10-5 first set lead. The Ramblers had trouble finding holes against the conference's leading block team, as Ball State used its front-three to shoot back numerous Rambler attack attempts. As Loyola struggled, the Cardinals increased their advantage to 11 at 20-9. The teams traded service errors, before Ball State mustered three powerful kills en route to a dominating 25-11 first set win.
As the teams traded points up to 13-13 in the second frame, Loyola regained its form and found kills from Eric Daliege and Dainis Berzins to take a 16-13 lead. After a pair of Ball State errors, the Ramblers increased their lead to five at 20-15. From here, Steve Thompson went to work. The junior capped off a string of three kills, while Mike Bunting earned a kill to give Loyola a much needed set win, 25-20.
After intermission, the teams returned to the court and continued to fight for points, as each squad managed leads on four different occasions throughout the set. Tied at 17-17, Bunting fired two kills, taking the frame to 21-20 in favor of Loyola. Ball State quickly answered back with two kills to bring the game into extra points at 24-24. With Ball State holding serve, Joseph Smalzer tagged his seventh kill of the frame to make the score 25-24. On the final point, Ball State setup a routine attack play, but it was met by a trio block from Bunting, Smalzer and Daliege, giving the Ramblers a 26-24 set win.
The back and forth match didn't end in the fourth set, as both squads answered kill for kill to take the set all the way to 25-25. This time around, however, the visitors came through after finding three points to win the frame 28-26 and move the contest into a fifth set.
In the deciding frame, Ball State jumped out to a four-point lead at 8-4, forcing Loyola to use a timeout. Out of the break, Smalzer added a kill, beginning a 7-3 Rambler run. With Loyola ahead 12-11, Cardinal Lee Meyer blasted a kill to even the set once again at 12-12. After trading points to 14-14, senior Kyle Exline tricked the Cardinal defense with a set-attack to force match point. On the final play, Ball State's Anders Nelson misfired on an attack attempt, providing Loyola the set win 16-14.
Smalzer posted his first career double-double of 21 kills and 10 digs to lead the Ramblers. Bunting added 16 kills and Daliege fired 11. Playing for the final time at Alumni Gym in a regular-season match, Mike Hutz totaled 48 assists. Exline also came up big for the Ramblers, as he added four assists and two important kills.
The Ramblers have the rest of the weekend off, before hitting the road against Quincy on April 15. Match time is set for 7:00 p.m. CT.