Defending champ Loyola-Chicago meets Lewis for the title
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) It's a rematch.
Just a week ago, Loyola-Chicago swept then-No. 1 Lewis in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association final. The two familiar teams will meet again on Saturday night for the NCAA championship.
''We know them well,'' Loyola coach Shane Davis said. ''I think we match up well with them.''
Loyola-Chicago, the defending national champions, swept Pfeiffer of North Carolina in a tournament play-in game on Tuesday.
Then the third-seeded Ramblers (27-2) swept UC Irvine in a semifinal match on Thursday night. Loyola's 25-22, 25-19, 25-17 victory assured the first championship game between two non-West Coast teams in tournament history.
Lewis (27-3) advanced with a 3-1 victory over Penn State in the semifinals.
Indeed, the two teams are very familiar. In addition to playing in the same conference, both schools are located in the Chicago area - Lewis is in Romeoville - and played each other twice in the regular season. The Flyers won both of those meetings 3-1.
''We're excited about playing them again. We got them early and they got the last one,'' said Lewis coach Dan Friend, named the national coach of the year. ''The next time just happens to be with the national championship on the line. Shane does a great job over there.''
The Ramblers are led by 6-foot-11 Thomas Jaeschke, who was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year earlier this week. Jaeschke had nine kills in the semifinal victory over the Anteaters. The win was Loyola's ninth straight.
Last season the Ramblers defeated top-seeded Stanford 3-1 for the school's first NCAA championship.
''It all started with our first Final Four in 2013 and the following year we win it. The guys are confident and that's contagious. The rookies held their own,'' coach Davis said. ''It shows the parity throughout the country. The coaches are doing a great job recruiting and bringing in players that fit their programs.''
Ramblers middle hitter Nicholas Olson said it has been the team's goal all year to get back to the final.
''We go into every set thinking we're going to win 25-0. If the other team happens to score a few points, no biggie. That's our mentality,'' Olson said. ''We're going to get our blocks. We'll be big, we'll be ugly and we'll shut them off.''
Lewis, which has never before faced the same team four times in a season, is known for its blocking. Middle attacker Bobby Walsh leads the nation with a 1.53 blocks per game and the Flyers overall were averaging 3.39 blocks per game - the only team nationwide to average more than three a game.
Eric Fitterer had 12 kills in the Flyers' 25-20, 25-22, 16-25, 25-20 win over Penn State on Thursday night.
Lewis, a Division II Catholic school of about 6,800 students, has been steadily growing its volleyball program. The Flyers won the national title in 2003, but later vacated it because of ineligible players. Friend has led the program's resurgence.
Penn State coach Mark Pavlik, who has faced both teams, anticipated a heated championship match.
''My analysis would include a coin,'' he said. ''This will be a classic.''
AP freelancer Rick Eymer in San Francisco contributed to this report.