Wilmette, Sports

Ramblers make program history with fourth-place finish in state tourney

For the first time in program history, Loyola Academy boys volleyball raised a state trophy following the IHSA boys volleyball tournament.

The Ramblers (38-4) earned a fourth-place finish in the IHSA tournament after regional, sectional and supersectional championships to advance to the state finals on Friday-Saturday, May 31-June 1, at Hoffman Estates High School.

Loyola wasted no time in making history, starting the eight-team finals with a three-set win (25-21, 23-25, 25-15) over St. Francis for the first state-finals victory in program history.

The win guaranteed a top-four finish, and the Ramblers ensuing two losses (York: 25-16, 25-15; Glenbard West: 27-29, 25-18, 25-22) couldn’t change that.

“It means everything,” said Loyola coach Lionel Ebeling, a former Rambler who graduated in 1993. “I had so many people reach out to me. … This is what we have talked about, getting here and bringing Loyola back to the ‘90s, when we we used to play. (Loyola last advanced to state in 1994.) This means everything.

“Obviously, there are seniors here. They have done all of the real work. It’s special.”

Loyola senior Nathan Chi rises for a set against Glenbard West on June 1.

Over the weekend, Loyola’s senior stars were on display. All-State outside hitter Jack Lopez racked up 48 kills in his team’s three matches, including 20 in the quarterfinal victory over St. Francis and 18 in the third-place loss.

Senior setter Nathan Chi dished out 37 assists, while All-State senior libero recorded a whopping 18 digs in the third-place match. Right-side Ben Trapp added 12 kills in the same match, and added 7 and 6 respectively in the team’s first two matches. Senior middle Dean Sollecito smacked 8 kills in the team’s state opener and 5 in the third-place match.

Loyola played its final contest without senior Liam Uruba, the team leader in blocks and second on the team in kills, following a rolled ankle early in the match.

Ebeling said not only did he roster an experienced team, but a deep one that could hurt opponents in a variety of ways.

“We are top to bottom a complete team,” he said. “We had 15 guys on the roster who each at some point this year had a meaningful impact in a game. That never happens, to be able to go that deep. It’s a special group.” 

On their way to a 37-2 regular-season record, the Ramblers began 17-0, winning the Vernon Hills and Wheaton-Warrenville South tournaments in that span. Loyola also won the Chicago Catholic League and earned the top seed in the sectional.

In Ebeling’s tenure, Loyola has recorded 15 straight seasons above .500. It has won at least 30 matches seven times in that span. Lopez said this team’s ability to make state is more evidence for the quality of the Loyola program.

“It’s legacy. We haven’t (gone to state) under this coach and he’s had great teams. It’s never happened,” Lopez said. “It’s proving that we can and proving our type of ball wins games. We didn’t do a lot of it (against Glenbard West) but playing our game got us here and I’m really proud of that. It’s just about history and legacy as a team.”

Sophomore Aldis Kins with a serve for Loyola Academy.

Lopez said Loyola volleyball is about disciplined and hungry defense and playing clean but aggressive offense, keeping the ball inbounds but also aiming for deep corners on attacks.

The style got the Ramblers all the way to the end, playing with programs like Marist (4 state titles; including this year) and Glebard West (6; won previous two years) that have multiple state championships and have been ranked, like Loyola, among the state’s best for much of the season.

“This means a lot,” Kins said about advancing to state. “It’s been such a long time since a Loyola team has done this, so it’s a really great feeling to come down here, get a win out of it and just compete all weekend, give it our all. Knowing that we were one of the last ones standing in the state is a good feeling.” 

Besides the depth and talent of the roster, Ebeling and Chi made sure to point to the team’s chemistry.

Previously at Niles West High School, Chi transferred to Loyola prior to his junior year and said he’s grateful to have join this group.

“I’ve never been involved in such a team-oriented community,” he said. “I think it’s because of the intensity and team leadership we have here. The chemistry is through the roof. We love each other on and off the court and that really showed throughout the season and our record.”

The Ramblers with their fourth-place state trophy on Saturday, June 1.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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