Smalzer

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- Junior Joe Smalzer drilled four of his match-high 20 kills in the decisive fifth set to lead No. 12 Loyola-Chicago to its first Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament title as the Ramblers knocked off Lewis 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 10-25, 25-22, 15-7) on Saturday at Neil Carey Arena.

With the win, Loyola advanced to the NCAA championship for the first time in program history. Lewis' saw its season end with a 20-10 record.

"I could not be more proud of a group of guys as I am with these guys," head coach Shane Davis said. "We really persevered through some periods where the match was not going our way and found a way to get it done."

The dramatic finale came after four hard fought sets. Loyola struggled to find its rhythm early and Lewis took advantage, racing out to a 6-2 lead in the opening set. Smalzer ripped consecutive kills to get the Ramblers within a point, but a kill and an ace later from Eric Fitterer bumped the lead back to five 15-10. Loyola was slowly able to chip away at the deficit and eventually pulled within one (21-20) on a Smalzer kill. However, Lewis was able to side-out the rest of the way, earning a 25-23 win.

The second set was a game of runs and the visitors jumped out to a 7-4 lead after consecutive Jaeschke kills. Lewis battled back to forge a tie at 10 and later moved out to a 17-14 lead after two LU hitting errors. Two Smalzer kills, plus one each from Nick Olson and Eric Daliege, accounted for all the points in a four-point scoring run on the serve of Dainis Berzins to give the Ramblers the lead back and they took a 21-19 lead on a Lewis error. After the Flyers pulled even at 23, Smalzer pushed the Ramblers to the finish line, first with a kill and then a service ace on set point to even the match at intermission.

After Lewis scored 18 of the last 22 points to take the third set 25-10, Loyola dug deep in the fourth frame. Two Rambler errors helped Lewis to an early 4-1 lead and when the Flyers still held a 10-6 lead,  Loyola was forced to spend a timeout. Loyola started to chip away and eventually pulled even at 13 on a Caldwell and Olson block. Consecutive blocks moments later from Olson and Peter Hutz gave the away side its first lead of the set (16-15) and Smalzer had back-to-back kills later to give the Ramblers a 22-18 edge. Lewis got no closer than two points the rest of the way, with a Flyers foot fault and another service error giving Loyola the final two points.

After four eventful sets, the teams found themselves in a sprint to 15 to decide the title. A Lewis service error gave Loyola the opening point and kills from Smalzer and Olson gave the Ramblers a 3-0 lead. Back-to-back kills from Thomas Jaeschke made it an 8-4 game at the changeover but Lewis responded with the next two points to get within two at 8-6.

A service error slowed momentum for the home team and Cody Caldwell followed with a kill, prompting a Lewis timeout. The Ramblers still led 11-7 before finishing strong. Another Caldwell kill gave LU service and Smalzer promptly killed an over-pass to make it 13-7. A Jeff Patton ace increased the Ramblers' lead and Smalzer's 20th kill clinched the win.

Loyola saved its best offensive stretch for the fifth set as the Ramblers hit .600 (10-1-15) in the final frame to finish at .243 for the match while Lewis slugged away at a .345 clip.

Smalzer, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led all players with 20 kills. He was joined in double figures, and on the all-tournament team, by Jaseschke (15 kills, 14 digs) and Caldwell (12 kills, 12 digs), while middles Olson (nine kills) and Daliege (eight) also contributed. Hutz guided the offense with 50 assists and added 10 digs of his own.