In moderation, and at the right time, it can take an experience from average to epic. Too much of it, and you become oblivious to the world. You might even wake up the next day feeling like someone pulled the rug right out from under your feet.
Heading into the second half of their conference season, Loyola Women’s Volleyball (7-11, 3-6 MVC, t-6th place) has given me a reason to knock back a shot of optimism.
But over the past few weeks, Chris Muscat’s bunch has given me reason to believe they’ve started to turn the corner.
After starting the season a respectable 5-6, Loyola fell on some hard times, dropping five of their next six matches. That included four straight home losses. As the new play-by-play announcer for the Ramblers, I had a courtside seat to back-to-back straight set defeats at the hands of Indiana State and Illinois State. It wasn’t pretty.
But looking beyond the box score, I saw the Ramblers trying a few new things out on the court that led me to believe this team could do some impressive things. That is, if everything were to click into place.
And against Bradley, it all finally did.
Reason #1 to be Optimistic: Continued Dominance from Morgan Reardon
This sophomore has been dominating all year long for the Ramblers. She missed both matches against the Braves last season due to injury, but Bradley finally had the misfortune of seeing her live in living color.
She collected her team-leading seventh double-double on the season, tallying 16 kills and 11 digs. This is exactly what we all expected to see from the preseason All-MVC honoree in her first full, healthy season on the outside.
In Indiana State coach Traci Dahl-Skinner’s own words, “she’s a terminator.” She FAR outpaces anyone else in the conference in total attacks (746) and kills (282).
This can potentially set up the Ramblers’ offense to be very one dimensional, and at times this season it has been. Without a respectable counterpart along the front line, opponents can throw double-teams at Reardon’s side all night with little to worry about.
But it takes a very special reason for me to drink alco… I mean, optimism… on a Monday. That reason? An emerging supporting cast that is making the offense much more dynamic.
Reason #2 to be Optimistic: Maureen Carls switching to Middle
Sliding junior Maureen Carls into the middle for the first time in her career was a huge step in the right direction. Last season, she shouldered a good deal of the offensive load while Reardon was out. She ended the season second on the team in kills (205), and she figured to be a solid compliment on the right side when Reardon returned.
Through the first 15 matches this season, however, Carls’ offense seemed a bit inconsistent while the offense was trying to get its legs underneath it. This is a team that returned a dominant force in Reardon and one that has turned to freshman Caroline Holt to be the everyday setter. While Holt has filled in seamlessly, her comfort zone is clearly with Reardon (who can blame her), so Carls was a bit overshadowed.
Coming into the Indiana State match, she was still second on the team in kills (111), but by a wide margin behind Reardon. She also saw her kills per set drop from 2.25 in 2013 down to 2.09, and her attack percentage dip from .177 to .111.
It’s not that a move to the middle has sent her on a killing spree, though she has seen a modest jump in kills per set. She’s simply becoming way more efficient; almost three times as much.
In three matches as a middle, Carls has picked up 20 kills on 49 swings with only six errors to her name, good for a .285 efficiency. A spike in efficiency can be expected when moving inside since you’re a) getting less sets overall and b) usually have a clear path to the floor right in the middle of the court. But for comparison’s sake, Carls has been more efficient in three matches than fellow middles Libby Bresser (.262) and Sami Hansen (.232).
With a lot of Bresser’s impact coming defensively at the net, and with Hansen not seeing consistent playing time of late, Carls has turned into the primary offensive choice up the middle.
I know it’s a small sample size, but this is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team looking to find some consistency. Carls has provided that, and if this continues, it won’t only benefit that duo, but anyone who is getting set on the opposite side.
Which brings me to…
Reason #3 to be Optimistic: The Return of Emily Carr
Shame on Loyola's Athletic Department for not putting a Derrick Rose-esq return video together for Carr. I kid, I kid... But in all seriousness, she's been able to come back from the same injury, just way faster, and make an immediate impact.
After spending more than a calendar year away from the hardwood with a torn ACL, junior Emily Carr has provided a solid offensive spark opposite of Reardon. She’s received the second most sets in the past two matches, tying Carls with 32.
Her 14 kills over six sets might not seem all that explosive, but keep in mind that she is Loyola’s primary sub. Whether it’s to guard against wear and tear on her knee, the offensive scheme, or a mix of both, Carr has had some relatively short spurts out there on the court. But she’s making each stay count, and even though she’s been set in bunches, she’s only committed three errors since returning.
This revamped front line has given the Ramblers offense a lot more credibility, and hopefully a lot more stability going forward for a team that desperately needs it.
Sometimes seeing a plan come together is half the battle; Loyola got a great look at that blueprint for success at Gentile last Friday. It’ll be intriguing to see if they can keep it up as they head out on the road for their next two matches against Wichita State (12-7, 6-3 MVC, 5th place) and Missouri State (14-7, 7-2 MVC, 2nd place).
This road trip will be a litmus test for a team that’s still “technically” on the outside looking in when it comes to conference tournament rankings. They’d lose the tiebreaker to Southern Illinois if the season ended today.
But a solid showing against these two teams in the top tier of the conference should give plenty of you a reason to join me in popping open your finest bottle of optimism.
I just hope I haven’t drank too much…
Home Webcast Info (listen to me do play by play! Subscription required)
More Loyola Athletics Info