By Matt Lindner
2:06 PM CDT, May 1, 2013
Do something in Chicago that hasn't been done in 50 years, like the Loyola men's volleyball team is doing, and eventually heads will turn.
"Going to the final four, to accomplish that, definitely people are noticing," said Eric Daliege, a fifth-year senior middle hitter for Loyola.
Daliege and his teammates became the first Ramblers men's volleyball team to advance to a final four after knocking off archrival Lewis University on Saturday. They're also the first team from the school in any sport to advance that far since the men's basketball team won the national championship in 1963.
Loyola takes on UC-Irvine at 8 p.m. Thursday in L.A. Penn State and BYU play in the other semifinal.
"It feels great to go to the final four finally," freshman setter Peter Hutz said.
That's something you'd expect to hear from former player and now coach Shane Davis, who has been with the program in some capacity for nearly 15 years.
"It's awesome not only to coach at your alma mater but be able to get the program to the next level, someplace that it's never been," said Davis, who graduated from Loyola in 2003. "So it's special."
So special that the fact that they're making school history hasn't sunk in just yet.
"Growing up as a volleyball kid, I always dreamed about making it to the final four," freshman middle hitter Nicholas Olson said. "[I] never thought I'd actually do it as a freshman."
"It's definitely a weird feeling," added Thomas Jaeschke, a freshman outside hitter from Wheaton who ranks second on the team with 336 kills. "Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what to expect and this is definitely more [than I thought would happen], but obviously we've still got work to do and that's why we're here."
As for how they got there, Daliege attributes that to a heavy dose of patience and coming together at the right time.
The Ramblers roster features three freshman starters (Hutz, Jaeschke and Olson) who have made an immediate impact..
"We sort of just jelled together as a team at the end of the year and started playing our best ball about a month or two ago," he said. "That's been the key to our success."
With all that success comes recognition on campus.
As the team has kept winning, players say their classmates have taken notice.
"We're getting lots of congratulations from people," Daliege said "I'm getting congratulations from kids I haven't talked to from high school."
"We've all just kind of become little celebrities on campus, which is pretty cool," Hutz added.
And has it helped with the ladies?
"Always," Olson said, laughing.
Of course the final four isn't the only final the Ramblers face this week.
Their historic run comes right in the midst of final exams week. For a guy like Daliege, the timing isn't much of an issue.
"Because I'm a fifth-year senior, I'm only taking one class right now," he said. "Obviously school does come first so I'm doing everything I can for my one class, but I'm really lucky that I have a lot of free time so obviously it's not hindering my volleyball."
Others say their professors have been flexible.
"All my thought is on the final four but I have to try to buckle down and work on those exams and study," Olson said. "I have a couple exams I'll be able to make up after and one of them I'll actually have to take on the road, but that's OK. [My professors are] being very generous."
"I'm actually taking all of mine once I get back from L.A. which is really nice," Hutz said. "It's tough and a little stressful but we're all focusing on volleyball right now, so I think we'll do pretty well."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
NCAA FINAL FOUR
Loyola (22-9) takes on defending national champ and second-seeded UC-Irvine (23-7) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus. The game will be streamed live on ncaa.com. It's the first appearance for the Ramblers in the Final Four and the fifth for the Anteaters. The teams have met five times, with Loyola holding a 3-2 edge.
If the Ramblers advance to the national championship match against the BYU-Penn State winner, it will be televised at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.
Looking back at 1963, the last time a Loyola team reached a final four …
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