It was easy to see how important Wednesday’s match was to Loyola senior middle Nick Howard.
He punctuated nearly every point the Ramblers, the No. 6 seed at the Glenbrook South Sectional, won at Evanston with a guttural roar. But during the postgame interview after Loyola’s 25-19, 25-18 victory over No. 3 Deerfield in the regional final, Howard (pictured above) struggled to get his words out.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s all a little overwhelming. I’m really excited.”
He should be. This is program’s first regional championship since 2015. Loyola lost in the regional final the last two seasons.
“We wanted this so badly,” Howard said. “We wanted it for us, the coaches and the former players up in the stands supporting us.”
Down 18-17 in the first set, the Ramblers won the eight of the final nine points. Howard opened the second set with a kill, and his block for a point gave them a 7-5 lead. Loyola never trailed the rest of the way.
“Nick brings so much energy,” Loyola head coach Lionel Ebeling said. “He gets excited for everybody.”
Loyola lost both of its matches against Deerfield in the regular season. Both defeats were in two sets, the most recent a 25-11, 25-18 loss May 12 in the championship match at Evanston’s invitational.
“The difference [Thursday] was ball control,” Ebeling said. “We did a good job of passing and getting our hitters into one-on-one situations. And our blocking was phenomenal. We contested almost everything.”
Junior Jack Howard, Nick’s brother, had 11 kills and two blocks. Nick finished with two kills and three blocks. Senior Drake Johnson had five kills. Senior Matt Wiertel contributed three kills and seven digs, while senior Clark Winkler had two kills and one block. Senior Rees Gray had 12 assists, and sophomore John Hitt had 11 assists. Freshman Ryan Merk totaled nine digs.
Loyola (26-12) plays No. 2 Hersey in the sectional semifinal Friday at Glenbrook South. Top-seeded New Trier plays No. 5 Palatine in the other semi.
“It was all about attitude [Thursday],” Nick Howard said. “This feels incredible.”
The Ramblers have won seven regional championships in the last 10 seasons.
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola