It wasn’t the start to the Catholic Blue schedule Loyola wanted Thursday, but the Ramblers showed signs of being a contender for the conference championship.

After a back-and-forth first set, Loyola fell behind early and never led in the second set in a 25-21, 25-15 loss to Brother Rice in Chicago.

“That first set is what good volleyball is all about,” Loyola head coach Lionel Ebeling said. “There were a lot of little runs, lot of sideouts. It was super competitive. We just have to eliminate some of the untimely errors. If we won that set, that gives us all the momentum and maybe a different ending to the match. But we know we can play with the top teams.”

In the first set, neither team lead by more than five points.

Loyola (4-5, 0-1) was up 11-9 before the Crusaders, one of the league favorites, went on a 3-0 run to go ahead 12-11. The Ramblers tied it at 12-all and again at 13-all, but Brother Rice used another 3-0 run to assume the lead for good.

After the Crusaders took a 21-16 advantage, Loyola cut the deficit to three three times down the stretch, once on an unlikely dig by senior libero Oscar Ventura and the other two times on kills by senior outside hitter Matt Byrne and sophomore outside hitter Jake Howard.

“We have to be better about not compounding our errors,” Byrne said. “We have to have short-term memories.”

The Ramblers were never in the second set, although they made a spirited run at the end. They trailed 5-0 and then 8-1. After going down 20-10, Loyola scored five of the next six points, the last two on kills by senior setter Jim Dunbar and Byrne. But Brother Rice closed out the set with four consecutive points.

“We dug ourselves too big of a hole, and it sucked all of the energy out of us,” Ebeling said.

Byrne had a team-best nine kills. Sophomore outside hitter Henry Clemons finished with four kills. Dunbar had 18 assists, and Ventura led the defense with nine digs.

“We passed the ball really well [Thursday], and I think we will continue improve,” Byrne said. “Even though we lost, we know we can play with them. There were reasons to be happy with how we played. We will see them again at home.”

The Catholic Blue has a new look this season. In addition to Loyola and Brother Rice, the conference consists of Providence Catholic, St. Francis and St. Rita. Each team plays each other twice.