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John Reger | NCAA.com | May 8, 2015

A close, yet far rivalry

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Lewis and Loyola may be just 44 miles apart, but in many ways the distance exceeds that number.

Loyola is on the shore of Lake Michigan on the north side of Chicago. Lewis is nestled on the south in the suburbs. Loyola is a Jesuit Catholic college founded in 1870 with an enrollment of approximately 16,000, while Lewis was founded by the Catholic Chicago Archdiocese in 1932 and has just under 7,000 students.

The two will face off in the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship on Saturday.

One characteristic they have in common is they have built strong programs and because of that -- and the closeness of the two universities -- a rivalry has naturally evolved.

“We go after the same guys and so there is a rivalry there as well,” Lewis head coach Dan Friend said. “I think you will see a certain style of player that Shane [Davis] recruits and a certain style I recruit. One school is in a city on the lake and the other is in the south suburbs.”

Lewis setter Scott Fifer grew up on the south side of Chicago and said there is a definite difference between the players that attend the two colleges.

“South side of Chicago is blue collar, hard working and you are going to work for everything,” Fifer said. “I think there is a respect, but I don’t know if it’s friendly at all.”

“The rivalry has gotten a lot healthier recently,” Loyola outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke said. “I think four or five years ago it was pretty chippy but now before the game we are talking and giving each other hugs but once the game starts I’m not talking through the net. I’m not your friend.”

Lewis outside hitter Greg Petty knows most of his opponents and is friends with Loyola’s Cody Caldwell.

“Pretty much the entire starting lineup I know and have either played with or against,” Petty said. “There’s a lot of friends. During the year there’s not a lot of communication, there’s a little bit. I am pretty good friends with Cody [Caldwell]. I played with him at the USA program. We always talk before and after matches. We really hoped this would happen it was in the back of our minds.”

Like most rivalries this one is built on familiarity and mutual respect. The teams are in the same conference, the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Conference, and face each other twice in the regular season and, for the past three years, in the conference finals.

When Davis was a player at Loyola in the early 2000s, the rivalry was fostered by the two head coaches, who almost turned it into a war.

“I think there was a big rivalry back then that I would even call a hatred,” Davis said. “I think it started out with the two previous coaches. I think it’s a much different rivalry now. That is all in the past and the two programs are a lot different from then.”

One difference is the relationship between the two coaches. Davis and Friend have a much warmer relationship and have built a rivalry that is not only civil, but mutually beneficial. They communicate regularly and even talked about the possibility of meeting in the finals.

“I think we talked more about last year than we did this year about playing in the final,” Friend said. “What it would have meant for the Chicago market. I don’t think it came up this year. I think we both wished each other luck and that was about it.”

It didn’t help that Lewis beat Loyola twice during the season and then lost in the conference finals.

“I don’t think I said a whole lot to him after the MIVA final other than congrats,” Friend said. “I think it’s pretty cool where both programs are at and how we are going to get to play for a national championship.”