ROMEOVILLE – Lewis University’s men’s volleyball team was excited to host the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Championship on Saturday, because its biggest rival was on the other side of the court.
While Lewis coach Dan Friend’s team won both of their MIVA matches with Loyola during the regular season, 3-1, the Flyers weren’t going to let the Ramblers come to their gym and win the third meeting, which would have prevented them from making a trip to the NCAA Championship finals.
Seventh-ranked Lewis swept the 10th-ranked Ramblers, 25-17, 25-18, 25-19, before a standing-room only crowd to win its second MIVA championship. Julian Moses was the Most Valuable Player and Ryan Coenen and Matt Yoshimoto made the All-MIVA First Team.
Lewis (25-5) advances to the NCAA Championships in Long Beach, California, where it meets fifth-ranked Southern California (18-10) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Flyers’ other MIVA title was in 2012, when they beat Loyola, 3-0.
This is Lewis’ fourth trip to the NCAA finals, but the first since 2015, when Loyola avenged two MIVA losses to win the league title and then beat the Flyers in the national finals for its second title.
Several Flyers’ seniors were on that 27-4 team, including Minooka graduate Mitch Perinar and Lincoln-Way North graduate Jake Walenga. Other seniors who were on that team include Michael Simmons, Nick Vander Zanden, Yoshimoto and Moses.
“We try to treat every match the same, but every match with Loyola is a little different,” Moses said. “But we have a great leadership group, and everything kind of fell into place. It was an awesome experience, and there’s no better group to win with.”
Lewis was 3-0 against Loyola (21-8) in a season for the first time since 2000. The Flyers had 40 kills and a .459 hitting percentage, while the Ramblers hit just .118. Bolingbrook graduate Tyler Mitchem and Coenen each had 10 kills, while Yoshimoto added 35 assists.
“This is one of the feelings,” Yoshimoto said. “We’ve worked hard for the last four years, so it feels great to finally get there again. We have a lot of confidence right now, and we came into this game almost certain that we were going to win.”
USC, which was 8-20 last season, is making its first NCAA appearence since 2012. The Trojans’ biggest win came March 23 when it stunned top-ranked and unbeaten Long Beach State, the defending national champions, 3-0.
“I was nervous all day, but in the beginning of the game we got into a good rhythm, and it was a fun game,” Coenen said. “Our seniors are the main part of our team.”