Photo courtesy of Michael Gomez Photography.
Jake Walenga and teammates celebrate after earning a momentous kill.
The eighth-ranked Lewis men’s volleyball team played rival and the sixth-ranked Loyola Ramblers on Saturday, March 17, losing 25-21 in the first set and dropping the enscending 25-22. The Flyer’s loss to the MIVA frontrunner drops their conference record to 5-3 and snaps their 12 match winning streak in Neil Carey Arena.
Despite answering the Ramblers’ early leads and only trailing by one point at 17-16 in all three sets, Loyola’s offense proved difficult to impede late in the game. Lewis finished the match with a .278 hitting percentage, while the Ramblers swung a .432. The Flyers were also unable to stop Loyola’s middle hitter Jeff Jendryk and outside hitter Collin Mahan, who led the Ramblers with 13 kills each.
The Flyers opened the match maintaining a point for point score tied at 8-8. Redshirt junior Jake Walenga led the Flyers in momentous plays throughout the match. Listed on the roster as a libero, Walenga’s versatility on the court was apparent as he challenged the 6-foot-11-inch blocker on the opposite side of the net. “I’ve played volleyball longer than most players on the team or even the league,” said Walenga. “I was never this big, tall guy so I had to compensate by learning every position and being a smarter player.”
Walenga, joined by outside hitters Ryan Coenen and Julian Moses, accounted for 10 of Lewis’ 12 kills in the first set. A kill by Walenga at 15-14 brought the Flyers back within one point, but they were unable to stop a 5-2 Rambler run at 20-19 that closed out the set.
The Ramblers jumped out to a 7-3 lead to begin the second set, but the Flyers quickly responded with four consecutive points to tie the set at 7-7. This marked one of 11 ties within the second set alone. Redshirt freshman Tyler Mitchem helped the Flyers take the lead with a kill at 16-14. Mitchem led an aggressive middle offense with seven kills on the match. Another 5-2 Rambler run closed out the match after a Flyer hitting error and a winning kill by Loyola’s Mahan.
The third set was a back and forth battle with Lewis struggling to hold a 9-8 lead before the Ramblers pulled away on a 6-1 run. Lewis climbed back within one point, but the momentum from Walenga on the outside pin wasn’t enough to spark a comeback, resulting in the sweep. “We had some pretty exciting plays that we could have used the awesome crowd in our advantage, but ultimately failed to do so,” said Walenga.
With Lewis sitting in fourth of the MIVA standings behind Loyola, Ohio State and Ball State, the next four consecutive conference matches of the season are crucial going into the MIVA Championships in April.
“Loyola, Ohio State and Ball State are all top-tier teams, but so are we,” said Walenga. “This will be a very wide open conference race; whoever gets hot will be important.”
The Flyers will round out their season with a stretch of four away games starting with McKendree on Thursday, March 29.