ROMEOVILLE – For all of the success that Lewis University men’s volleyball coach Dan Friend has had during his 15-year career at the school, one of the most significant goals to elude him is being able to win a championship in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament.
The only time that the Flyers won the MIVA tournament title was in 2012 when, as a second seed, they rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win the final two sets and claim a 3-2 victory over top-seeded Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. That allowed Lewis to advance to the NCAA championship for the first of three trips during his tenure.
That started a run of five straight trips to the MIVA title match, but Lewis wound up losing the last four, due primarily to the fact it played the eventual national champion Loyola in 2014 and 2015 and eventual national champion Ohio State in 2016.
Despite falling in the 2014 and 2015 finals in the conference tournament, Friend’s teams still advanced to the NCAA finals. Lewis also dropped 3-2 semifinal decisions to Ohio State a year ago, to Grand Canyon in 2017 and to Loyola in 2013, when the Flyers also were the top seed.
But No. 7 Lewis took care of business Wednesday at Neil Carey Arena as it captured a 25-17, 25-21, 25-17 victory over McKendree University to advance to the title match.
Leading the Flyers were Minooka graduate Mitch Perinar (16 kills, four digs), Matt Yoshimoto (31 assists, three aces), Ryan Coenen (eight kills, three aces) and TJ Murray (seven kills).
“It’s like I’ve missed half of the season because of my injury, so it doesn’t feel like it’s the end of the season now,” Perinar said. “It kind of gets you that extra edge because this could be over in a flash. Our team has had playoff experience for a long time, so we knew what we had to do coming into it.”
Other leaders for Lewis included Bolingbrook graduate Tyler Mitchem (five kills), Julian Moses (four kills) and Michael Simmons (nine digs).
In the first set, it was tied at 9 when Lewis went on a 7-1 run to take control. In the second set, the Flyers had a 9-1 run to set the table for the final set, where they led by as many as eight points before the Bearcats (13-13) made a late comeback effort.
“This feels great,” said Yoshimoto, who set the school’s season record for aces. “We’ve had a very successful season, so we pretty much expected to get here.”
The MIVA championship match will feature the Flyers (24-5) and Loyola (21-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Neil Carey Arena. In the other semifinal match in Chicago, the Ramblers rallied from a first-set defeat to to capture a 3-1 win over Purdue Fort Wayne.
In the Flyers’ last meeting with Loyola on March 15, a standing-room- only home crowd saw Lewis capture a 3-1 victory over the Ramblers. Only two weeks before that, Lewis won in the same number of sets in a match in Chicago.