Boys volleyball: St. Francis falls in state quarterfinal to Loyola

Ben Brown of York leaps for a kill in front of David Neylon, left, and Noah Konopack of Lincoln-Way West during the boys state volleyball quarterfinals at Hoffman Estates High School on Friday, May 31, 2024 in Hoffman Estates.

HOFFMAN ESTATES – Making its first boys volleyball State Finals appearance, St. Francis thought it was a good sign when it lost the opening set of its quarterfinal clash with Loyola.

After all, in the two Catholic League Conference meetings between the teams this season, the team that lost the first set won the next two.

While the Spartans rallied to win the second set in the quarterfinal, they couldn’t keep up in the third. Loyola emerged with a 25-21, 23-25, 25-15 victory in the third state quarterfinal on Friday afternoon at Hoffman Estates.

The Ramblers (38-2), who are making their first state appearance in 30 years and will bring home their first trophy, will face York, a 25-17, 25-17 winner over Lincoln-Way West, at 11 a.m. Saturday in the second semifinal.

“All of our matches went three sets and whoever lost the first set won the next two,” Loyola coach Lionel Ebeling said. “(St Francis coach) Mike Lynch had an amazing team and he’s an amazing coach. I’m glad for them to get here but we had aggressive serving, especially by Nathan Chi, that was the catalyst.

“This is by far the most complete team I’ve had.”

Ebeling has been the Rambler coach since 2005 and was happy when they opened the third set on a 4-0 run and led the whole way. Ahead 7-5, they went on a 12-2 blitz that saw an ace from Chi (31 assists, three aces three digs) and a block by senior outside hitter Jack Lopez (20 kills, 4 blocks).

Dean Sollecito, a senior middle hitter, had eight kills and four digs, senior opposite side hitter Benjamin Trapp totaled seven kills and three blocks, and sophomore defensive specialist Aldis Kins added eight digs for the Ramblers.

Trailing 19-7 in the third set, the Spartans (28-9) had a 6-1 burst of their own behind two blocks and a kill by senior setter Kyle Zediker (27 assists, 10 kills, 4 blocks, 6 digs) but couldn’t get closer than seven points.

“We came back and fought,” Zediker said. “We’re going to play the way we play but Loyola was on in the third set and played a great game.”

There were 10 ties in the first set. But trailing 19-17, Lopez lashed five kills as Loyola went on a 7-0 run to take charge. St Francis led 19-15 and 20-17 in the second set but the Ramblers rallied for leads of 22-21 and 23-22. The Spartans, however, captured the set as senior outside hitter Eddie Mulder (14 kills, 2 digs, ace) sandwiched a pair of kills around a wide hit.

“We’re here because of these guys,” Lynch said of his team. “These guys put this run together. I’ve been coaching for 26 years (since 1999) and would come here as a fan and wonder what it would be like to be on this floor. We had a great season, we beat six of the Top 12 ranked teams in the state and we accomplished a lot making the final eight.”

Gavin Gonzalez (six kills, two assists, five digs) on the outside and Nick Madden (five kills, three blocks, two digs) and Aaron Cook (four kills, three blocks) in the middle, along with fellow senior, libero JT McCormick (10 digs, five assists) all contributed for the Spartans.

“I’ll remember the first time we beat Loyola,” said Muller of the Spartans 13-25, 25-22, 25-23 win on April 16 before losing the second match 18-25, 25-16, 25-19 on May 2. Also, just the energy we played with. Knowing it was an accomplishment to be the first to make it here means a lot to us.”

Randy Whalen

Randy Whalen - Shaw Local News Network Correspondent

Randy Whalen is a contributing reporter to Shaw Local, covering high school sports in Will County