CHICAGO, Ill. -- Peter Jasaitis, a senior libero for Loyola Chicago, woke up Friday morning and found a letter stuffed underneath his apartment door.
It was a congratulatory note for the team‘s historic victory Thursday night against Penn State, a win that advanced the Ramblers to their first national championship game against Stanford.
“This is awesome,” Jasaitis said. “People are fired up for men’s volleyball.”Nearby in a hotel, Stanford players celebrated their own memorable five-set victory against BYU with Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas and bathtubs full of ice to help their bodies recover from a championship road trip that will hit its 12th day Saturday.
Stanford will attempt to win its first national championship since 2010 when it faces Loyola in the title game of the NC championship on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU) at Loyola’s Gentile Arena.
If the title match plays out anything like the semifinals did, then the arena will be rocking with noise. Both semifinal matches went into a winner-take-all fifth set for the first time in NC championship history.
“I thought it was incredible,” Stanford coach John Kosty said. “This is a brand and type of volleyball that’s out there all around the country. Loyola Chicago has done a great job showcasing the talent that we have. It’s great that we’re on ESPN[U] Saturday.
“We’re going to put on a great match-up for the fans and the non-fans. We’re going to convert a lot of people Saturday to men’s volleyball.”
Loyola (28-1) will again pack its home arena with more than 4,400 spectators as the Ramblers chase after their 27th consecutive win in a record season under head coach Shane Davis, a former Loyola volleyball star.
Stanford (24-8) arrives at title night on the heels of a heart-pounding victory against BYU in which it rallied to win the last two sets against the No. 1-ranked Cougars and national player of the year Taylor Sander.
It didn’t take Kosty long to remind his team that the job was only half done.
“When we were in the locker room celebrating, it was pretty humbling because coach Kosty walks in and basically tells us we haven’t won the national championship. That was just the right to play in the national championship,” senior outside hitter Steven Irvin said.
A quick comparison of the two schools speaks loudly. Stanford has won 104 NCAA championships. Loyola, a school tucked into the Lake Michigan lakefront north of downtown Chicago, has won just one national title: men’s basketball in 1963.
But when a Loyola volleyball player walks across campus, they are recognized. Saturday brings yet another first for the Ramblers, whose only loss was in the first week of the season to Southern Cal.
“The experiences we’ve had this year and just how close our team is, that’s what it’s all about in the end,” Jasaitis said. “If we go out there and we give our full effort, lay it all out there and we lose, you can’t be mad about that. Stanford’s a great team. As long as we leave everything out on the floor, because it literally is the last match, everyone’s going to be completely happy at the end of the day.”
The matchup is an intriguing one. Stanford sophomore setter James Shaw, the son of AVCA Hall of Famer and four-time NCAA championship coach Don Shaw, had 59 assists in the win against BYU and is a two-time member of the USA Volleyball Junior National Team.
“They bring a lot of firepower at the pins,” Davis said. “Shaw does a great job moving that ball around. He’s a huge threat up there as a setter. He’s taking the ball higher than the antennas a lot of the times and it’s a lot to keep track of.”
Loyola will counter with a high-powered attack of sophomore outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke, the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association player of the year and a 2013 junior national team member; junior outside hitter Cody Caldwell, one of the nation’s best players, and 6-foot-10 sophomore blocker Nick Olson.
Standing across the net from each other will be California buddies Jasaitis, of Manhattan Beach, and Irvin, of Pacific Palisades. They grew up just an hour away from each other and played against each other in club and high school volleyball. After Thursday’s semifinals, Irvin sent a congratulatory text message to Jasaitis.
“It’s nice to finally play against him again,” Jasaitis said.
Loyola displayed some nervousness in its win against Penn State, but Davis expects none of that to surface Saturday.
“I feel like there’s so much less pressure than last night because we got over that hurdle,” he said. “It’s our last match together. It’s our time to go out and let loose and have fun and enjoy the time that we have tomorrow night together and just let it rip.”