Loyola senior Jack Howard offered an otherworldly explanation why the Ramblers haven’t won the Catholic League since he was in eighth grade.
“Maybe I’m cursed,” he joked.
There’s reason to believe the Ramblers will break the spell this season, especially after they captured the tournament title at Vernon Hills by beating Glenbard East 18-25, 25-16, 25-16 in Saturday’s final to finish 5-0.
After losing the season opener Wednesday to Niles West in two sets, Loyola (5-1) went 3-0 in pool play before defeating Barrington 25-21, 25-19 in the semifinals. The Ramblers won 10 of 12 sets in five matches over two days.
“We have some new starters, and I think we had some jitters in that first game against Niles West,” Howard said. “But we know we can play, and we were able to prove that at Vernon Hills.”
A four-year starting outside hitter, the 6-foot-5 Howard earned MVP honors after totaling a team-high 54 kills. Sophomore libero Ryan Merk, who led Loyola with 72 digs, was selected to the all-tournament team.
“He’s so good at his job,” Howard said. “We all turn to him to tell us what we need to do better.”
Traditionally a strong offensive team, the Ramblers relied on defense at Vernon Hills, according to Ebeling. He said 6-5 senior middle Gavin Elliott, 6-6 junior middle Liam Roberts and 6-7 junior right-side hitter Jake Soucheray — all of whom are first-year varsity players — dominated the front row.
Elliott had six blocks in the final two games, while Soucheray had five blocks in the win against Vernon Hills.
“Our blocking was clicking,” Ebeling said. “It wasn’t soft touches, either. They were straight down, for points. That’s demoralizing for the other team. They were a wall.
“If we didn’t get a block, we did a great job channeling the ball to Merk, who was unbelievably on the back row.”
Ebeling praised the play of senior outside hitter Henry Clemons, who finished second on the team with 44 kills, including 21 in the semifinal and final matches.
“That probably was the best five games he’s ever played at Loyola, and that’s what we expect out of him as a senior,” Ebeling said.
The Ramblers start the road toward their first league title since 2015 when they travel to Brother Rice on Tuesday. They host St. Ignatius, a newcomer to the Catholic Blue this year, on Wednesday.
“Conference is a huge goal for me, and we have a team that can make it happen,” Howard said.