During an injury timeout early in the first set in Thursday’s season opener against Prospect, Loyola senior captain and libero Angela Pieroni said the players huddled up and told each other to settle down.
The pep talk worked as the Ramblers ran away from the Knights in their eventual 25-12, 25-22 win.
“Everybody was freaking out, but we were only down 3-1,” Pieroni said. “We knew we would be fine. Once the nerves left us, we were able to play our game.”
Down 6-5 in the first set, Loyola used a 10-0 run to separate itself. Junior setter Anne Martinson and junior middle Elizabeth Ford each had two kills during the momentum-shifting stretch.
“The girls needed to get a feel for what it was like to compete,” Loyola head coach Mark Chang said. “It came down to comfort and understanding they’ve been there before. Our confidence, aggressiveness and communication all came together.”
The second set was close throughout until the Ramblers won four consecutive points — two on kills by junior outside hitter and varsity newcomer Sabrina Dempsey — to go ahead 24-21.
“I think we were too comfortable in the second set,” Pieroni said. “We couldn’t sit back on our heels. We realized we had to earn that win.”
Martinson led Loyola’s offense with eight kills and added three blocks. Junior right-side hitter/setter Mary Kate Lopez, a 6-foot-3 Oregon State commit, had six kills and two blocks. Chang said she played a perfect game. Pieroni, who said she will sign with Bucknell in November, had 12 digs.
Ford, Lopez (pictured above), Martinson and Pieroni are part of big group of returning players from a team that finished 22-12 and won a Class 4A regional championship. Ford and Leinenweber are the team’s other two captains.
Senior setter Mary Leinenweber, senior outside hitter Laurren Henning, junior outside hitter/middle Sammy Downey and junior outside hitter Lizzy Walker all have varsity experience.
“The chemistry is there,” Pieroni said. “We know each other so well and are excited for this season.”
Along with Dempsey, junior outside hitter Julia Martinez, a standout basketball player, and junior right-side hitter Avery Bodkin are first-year varsity players expected to contribute, according to Chang.
“The individual talent is there to compete at the highest level,” Chang said. “But it’s about believing in the process of getting better every day.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola