On the wall above the seats at one end of Gentile Arena are 10 banners marking the achievements of men’s and women’s Loyola teams in two sports that have played in the NCAA tournament.
The most noteworthy honors the men who won the 1963 men’s basketball tournament and had been the only Ramblers team to play in an NCAA final.
Until Saturday night, that is, when the top-seeded Loyola men’s volleyball team hoped to use the encouragement of a sellout crowd at Gentile Arena to help beat Stanford and add another banner reading “NATIONAL CHAMPIONS” to the wall.
Call the interior decorator.
Loyola completed a dream season with a decisive 3-1 win by scores of 25-17, 19-25, 25-19, 25-15.
A year after making the tournament for the first time, the Ramblers (29-1) became the first Division I champion from the central time zone.
Brilliant all-around efforts by Thomas Jaeschke of Wheaton Warrenville South, Joe Smalzer of Marist and Cody Caldwell of Newport Beach, Calif., left the Cardinal (24-9) constantly overmatched.
Caldwell had 20 kills and 10 digs. Jaeschke added 12 kills, 8 digs, 3 assists and strong serving. Smalzer, national server of the year, lived up to that distinction and has 12 kills and 8 digs.
Setter Peter Hutz of Whitefish Bay, Wis., got 47 assists as his team had an impressive .452 hitting percentage.
A similar crowd had the 4,500-seat arena rocking during the final set of Loyola’s 3-2 win over Penn State in Thursday’s semifinals, when Jaeschke had a career-high 24 kills.
Loyola sophomore Nicholas Olson said playing in that environment was “the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life.” Senior teammate Peter Jasaitis called it “overwhelming.’
Stanford knows well the value of such an advantage. The No. 3 seed Cardinal won the 2010 title – their second – on their home court.
The Cardinal were playing their fifth game in 10 days during a 12-day road trip that began with their conference championship at Brigham Young, where they lost in the title game.
As an at-large choice to the six-team tournament, Stanford needed to win a Tuesday play-in game over Erskine to reach the Final Four. It then fought off two match points while rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat BYU in a scintillating five-set semifinal Thursday.
With nine kills by Cody Caldwell and a stunning .696 hitting percentage, Loyola rolled to a 25-17 victory in the first set even though the Ramblers had four service errors.
Stanford, sloppy on attack in the first set, rallied in the second behind strong serving (4 aces), winning 25-19 as the Ramblers made five attack errors.
Loyola took the third set 25-19 as Jaeschke caught fire with six kills, including four straight.