The day before the Ramblers beat Fremd to capture the Class 4A sectional championship at Loyola, the players dressed up in Halloween costumes for practice.
At a weight-lifting session in advance of the postseason, the Ramblers were working hard and having fun.
During Loyola’s 25-19, 25-18 win over the Vikings on Wednesday, the top-seeded Ramblers clearly were the looser team. While the team is serious about winning, Loyola head coach Mallory Thelander said it’s important to let the players be teenagers.
“The girls feed off of the positive energy,” she said. “It’s big for us.”
According to senior right-side hitter and setter Mary Kate Lopez, the players are both teammates and friends.
“We enjoy being around each other,” she said. “That personal connection has allowed us to build a deep trust with one another. It’s helped us be successful.”
Loyola (30-8), which won its first sectional title since 2015, plays Prairie Ridge (28-10) on Friday in the supersectional at Warren. The winner advances to the state tournament Friday and Saturday at Redbird Arena in Normal. The Ramblers finished fourth at the state tournament in 2014.
Prairie Ridge is led by senior middle Sammi Lockwood, a 6-foot-3 Notre Dame commit. She had nine kills in the team’s 25-13, 25-19 win over Crystal Lake Central on Wednesday.
In its sectional final, the Ramblers received contributions from multiple players. Junior Jackie Yau had six kills and two blocks. Senior Lizzie Walker had six kills and one block. Senior Elizabeth Ford finished with five kills and two blocks, while Lopez had five kills and one ace. Senior Anne Martinson totaled three kills, one block and one ace. Senior Julia Martinez had two kills and two blocks.
It didn’t look good early for Loyola, which trailed Fremd 11-4 in the first set. But the Ramblers rallied and used a 6-0 run, capped by a Lopez kill, to take a 16-14 lead. They never trailed the rest of the set.
“Coach always tells us we are so dramatic, especially at the beginning of matches,” Lopez said. “I don’t know why we start slowly. We have to be better about that.”
Loyola assumed control of the second set much sooner. A 5-0 run gave the Ramblers an 18-11 lead, and the Vikings never got closer than six.
“This means so much to us,” Lopez said. “We’ve put so much sweat and spent so many hours in this gym. It’s incredible to win [the sectional championship] here. Everything we’ve done has been worth it.”