PALO ALTO, Calif. Cody Caldwell, the senior outside hitter from Newport Beach, the California kid whom his coach credited for single-handedly starting the turnaround for Loyola that eventually led back-to-back championships, simply shook his head.

It was the gnarliest match Ive ever played in, Caldwell said. I cant stop saying that. I dont know what else to say.

Nor did anyone else after everyone finally caught their respective breaths and their hearts settled back down out of their throats. How could you describe what went down Saturday night in Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University other than to recognize that it will go down in history as one of the greatest men’s college volleyball matches ever, if for no other reason the final score:

25-21 Lewis.

25-23 Loyola.

25-15 Loyola.

27-25 Lewis.

And, finally, 23-21 Loyola, ending when the block of Nick Olson and Ricky Gevis found the spike of Lewis Greg Petty, stuffed it to the floor, and the NCAA men’s volleyball championship was in the books.

Yes, the epicenter of the men’s college game now is centered squarely on northern Illinois, where this incredible rivalry played out in full form. Loyola from the middle of Chicago. Lewis from suburban Romeoville. Twice they played in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association regular season and twice Lewis won. Then a week ago Loyola did what it had done the previous two years, beat Lewis in the MIVA title match.

Finally, with everything on the line, five sets werent good enough.

But the Ramblers, who finished their season 28-2, were prepared.

Every single practice at the end we play a game five, Loyola coach Shane Davis said. We do it every single practice so when we get into a game-five situation we are confident and we feel ready to go and very comfortable.

That fifth and deciding first-to-15-point game went on and on, especially after Lewis, down 14-11, rallied to take a 15-14 lead. It was one of three chances the Flyers had to win their first title since 2003, albeit one the school vacated. But Loyola, down 22-21, tied it on one of Caldwell’s 11 kills as he tooled the block. Then Caldwell blocked Lewis Eric Fitterer, setting up the penultimate point that gave the MIVA its third title in five years. Ohio State won it all in 2011, UC Irvine went back to back in 2012 and 13, and then last year Loyola won the school’s second national championship ever, a mere 51 years after winning it all in basketball.

That title on May 4, 2014, came just two days before Andrea Davis, the wife of Shane Davis, had their second child. So just more than a year later, they won it again. Andrea, a Chicago native like Shane, basked in the Ramblers victory, holding little 1-year-old Jordyn on her hip.

I cant express the pride, she said. This team is just incredible. And ShaneI married a winner for sure.

Theyve been married eight years and volleyball is a full-time lifestyle for them. Andrea still runs their club volleyball program, D1, where they happened to hire Dan Friend when he came to Chicago. Friend, of course, is the 11th-year coach of Lewis.

This match was incredible, Andrea Davis said. And Dan Friend is one of our good friends, to see them both battle She smiled and paused. This had to be one of the greatest finals in the history of men’s volleyball.

It sure was for her husband.

This one felt a lot better than last year’s national championship. This was much more difficult, Davis said.

The repeat was so tough. I think going into this year we didnt know what to expect, with all the new guys, all the hard work, all the adversity we faced throughout the season with all the injuries and rookies on the court. Getting to this point was really tough.

Even if youd never seen volleyball, the match that took 2 hours, 38 minutes capped by an epic fifth game that had more ups and downs than the craziest ride at Disney, was something to behold.

You couldnt have paid for better entertainment in terms of 18 bucks, if that was the ticket price, Friend said. It was a great show, just a great volleyball match, back and forth and I was real excited to be a part of that.

Al Scates, who retired in 2013 after a 50-year coaching career at UCLA that included winning 19 NCAA titles, is the only other coach to have won back-to-back NCAA crowns.

It was among the best, Scates said of the match. That was so entertaining.

I loved seeing the photographers run from side to side to try to get the final shot. The fans were standing. It was exciting. It was beautiful.

Not for Lewis, of course, but Friend realizes that one day even his players will realize it was special.

I think we gave you a match to remember for a long, long time for atmosphere and energy, Friend said. I think it will be a fun one to go back and talk about and watch.

Petty, Lewis senior leader who led all players with 23 kills, said he had never played in anything with the intensity of that match.

His fellow senior Geoff Powell finished with 20 kills and like Petty four block assists. Their team, which finished 27-4, was out-blocked 20.5 to 13.5 and out-hit as well, .260 to .219.

Holy smokes. The adrenaline, Davis marveled. The crowd was in it on every single play. There wasnt a home or away crowd. Everything would go silent and everything slows down a little bit and it was just cool to see their guy go at our guy.

Junior outside Thomas Jaeschke, who it’s safe to say will be in the Olympic-roster mix someday, most likely in 2020, led Loyola with 20 kills, four in the last set. He’s from Wheaton, outside Chicago, and was joined this year by fellow Wheaton native freshman middle Jeff Jendryk, who had 17 kills, seven block assists, and a solo, and frankly was as big as a first-year college kid could have been on that stage. The other middle, Olson, had 10 kills, three in the fifth set.

It’s so great to have middles who can put the ball away like Nick and Jeff do and at such a high efficiency, Jaeschke said. Jeff hit .500 tonight but it’s not like that’s new. He’s done that all season.

It was suggested to Jendryk that he doesnt lack for confidence and he and his teammates laughed.

That’s very true, Jendryk said. As soon as I step on the court my nerves are gone. It’s just doing what I know how to do. Focus and focus on winning.

Winning is what Davis does and this victory puts him into the upper echelon, especially since he took over at his alma mater 12 years ago at the age of just 23. He and his assistants, Mark Hulse and Kris Berzins and volunteer Ben Wilson are obviously loved by the players.

This is a product of us working hard for them and them working for us, Jaeschke said.

He puts his whole life into this program, Caldwell said of Davis. He’s put in unthinkable time and effort into this program, so this has to be so satisfying. It’s satisfying for me to watch him go through that.

Davis doesnt accept praise easily, but knows he’s done something special. He coached that way, too, at one point simply putting his clipboard on the bench and spending his time cheering on his kids.

It was an unbelievable, he said. That match could have gone either way 20 different times.

Theyll go back to Chicago and celebrate and Lewis will regroup and you can just bet that the MIVA will be in the mix again next year. Which was already on the minds of the Ramblers.

The first thing Jeff said to me when I gave him a hug, Jaeschke said, was Let’s get another one.

It’s a never-ending hunger, never-ending work. Were not going to stop.

And that’s a gnarly thought.


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