BOYS VOLLEYBALL: Loyola head coach Lionel Ebeling said he saw enough good things in Wednesday’s season opener to not worry about the team’s 25-17 25-21 loss to Niles West at home.
In his 15th season leading the program, Ebeling will get a better look at the Ramblers this weekend when they compete at Vernon Hills’ invitational Friday and Saturday. Loyola plays Buffalo Grove, Vernon Hills and Libertyville in pool play.
“We have a lot of talent on this team, but we haven’t played a lot together,” Ebeling said. “At this point, it’s about getting experience with one another and players learning their roles.”
Loyola returned four veterans from last season’s team that went 27-13 and advanced to a sectional final. They led the way in the opener against the Wolves.
Senior Jack Howard, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter and four-year starter, totaled six kills and two blocks. After ranking first on the team in kills as a freshman and sophomore, he missed the first 16 games last season with an ankle injury. Healthy again, Ebeling called Howard unstoppable.
“We have to find ways to get him the ball,” he said.
Senior outside hitter Henry Clemons, who’s in his third varsity season, contributed six kills. Junior outside hitter and setter John Hitt had four kills and 10 assists. Sophomore libero Ryan Merk — one of the best players at his position in the country, according to Ebeling — finished with six digs.
“It was a rough start, and we made a lot of unforced errors, a lot of mistakes,” Ebeling said. “It might have been good to get humbled.”
Senior middle Gavin Elliott, junior middle Liam Roberts and junior right-side hitter Jake Soucheray all made their first varsity starts Wednesday. Junior middle Mukhtar Abdul is another newcomer expected to contribute this season, according to Ebeling.
“We are a solid team, and we will only get better,” Ebeling said.
GIRLS WATER POLO: The Ramblers enter the St. Ignatius invitational this weekend on a five-game winning streak and seeking their second consecutive tournament title.
Loyola (7-3) opens with Homewood-Flossmoor on Friday at Illinois-Chicago.
Prior to earning a 15-1 win over Resurrection on Tuesday, the Ramblers went 4-0 at the Jones-Payton tournament to take first place.
Loyola welcomed back four starters from last season’s 20-14 team that finished fourth at the state tournament.
Seniors Grace Kern, Mary Kate Lopez, Aidan Koconis-O’Malley and Lauren Vallace all played roles on a team that tied the program’s best finish. The 2009 team also placed fourth.
Junior Sophia Visconti, who earned valuable experience on the bench last season, leads a group of players head coach Kim Przekota said she will be counting on this year.