An answer finally came from the Loyola Academy boys volleyball team in the second set of Saturday’s sectional semifinal against Glenbrook North.
But it wasn’t enough.
The Ramblers built an early lead in that second set, thanks to a block and a kill from Benjamin Trapp, to jump ahead 8-5 in efforts to mount a comeback.
GBN snagged the lead back with Colin Schaefer playing big around the net and Paul Cho recording some timely digs and sets for the Spartans. Loyola’s outside hitters Jake Balata and Alex Lopez continued to make plays to keep the Ramblers in it, but the Spartans finished off a 25-16, 25-22 victory.
The Ramblers had beaten GBN back on April 15 but also had two losses to the Spartans this season heading into Saturday’s matchup.
“When we play well, we’ve beaten a lot of (good teams) in the state,” Ebeling said. “We play a lot of the top teams. This is the fourth time we’ve played them. We had to win the first-contact game, meaning we’ve got to serve well and serve receive. If we did that our offense just clicks. We didn’t do that in the first set, it was better in the second set.”
In the first set, Connor Durst’s brief 4-0 serving run in the first set included an ace, a block and a kill from Lance Lai and a kill from Evan Uhlig that separated the Spartans from the Ramblers.
Durst was also on fire around the net, and the Ramblers faced an uphill battle that ended in the first set defeat. Six Spartans had at least four kills, and Schaefer’s 15 assists led GBN.
Lopez’s strong first-set play (4 kills) carried over into the second set, and Trapp recorded a kill and a block that helped get the Ramblers take the 8-5 advantage.
GBN snagged the lead back with Colin Schaefer playing big around the net and Paul Cho recording some timely digs and sets for the Spartans.
Loyola did not go away and closed to within 23-22 but could not finish the comeback.
Lopez finished with 7 kills, Jake Balata had 6 and Trapp added 4.
“When our passing works, our setter Nathan (Chi) does a great job of spreading to our offense,” Loyola Academy coach Lionel Ebeling said. “It’s really hard to defend us because we’ve got three solid attackers.”
The Spartans (22-8) advance to the sectional finale against intradistrict foe Glenbrook South (36-1), while the Ramblers fell short in their 30-win season.
Loyola Academy finished 31-7 overall and shared a Catholic League title with Brother Rice with a 9-1 record. The Ramblers send off a four-player senior class: Charlie Gervasio, Balata, Ryan Nieman and Declan Davis.
“What this senior class did is they won the Catholic League as sophomores and seniors and won regional championships sophomore and senior year,” Ebeling said. “These guys have left their legacy on the program and we’ve got a lot of juniors who can hopefully learn from these experiences.”
“We had a small senior class, I’m just really grateful for how well we did,” Gervasio said. “We had a great season overall. We couldn’t get it done here at the end, that’s saddening. I’m sad about that but Im really grateful because I had a lot of fun.”
Gervasio spoke admiringly of former teammate Ryan Merk, who now plays for Penn State volleyball, and others, and said getting to see their success first-hand as a sophomore helped inform his leadership and performance.
Now, Gervasio believes the younger Ramblers are ready to take over the program.
“It was something really special, especially with the younger guys we’ve had a lot of younger guys that really stepped up this year,” Gervasio said. “I was a captain and I felt like as a senior that I needed them to be looking toward me for support… a lot those younger guys are playing better than me, I’m just trying to keep them fired up, really make sure I do my role on the court.”