STANFORD, Calif. - It took five sets and 10 championship points, but Loyola-Chicago outlasted rival Lewis (Ill.), 21-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-27, 23-21, to claim its second consecutive NCAA men's volleyball title Saturday at Stanford's Maples Pavilion.
National player of the year Thomas Jaeschke led the Ramblers with 20 kills, while freshman Jeff Jendryk (17 kills) took home the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honors.
"This one felt a lot better than last year's national championship and this was much more difficult," Loyola coach Shane Davis said. "The repeat is tough."
Dating back to the DI/DII tournament's inception in 1970, Loyola (28-2) becomes the fourth program to win back-to-back titles and first from outside California. And the way it came won't likely be copied anytime soon.
The third-seeded Ramblers had two chances to end the match in the fourth set, but did not convert -- allowing for one of the more memorable final sets in the championship's 46-year history. The first of Loyola's eight championship points in the fifth set came at 14-11, but Lewis scored the next four points to bring itself to a point from the title.
But, like Loyola, top-seeded Lewis (27-4) couldn't find a way to get the final point. The Flyers failed on two more championship points, and the Ramblers on four more, before Loyola scored the match's final four points to win 23-21.
"We just weren't quite getting the break and Lewis played tremendous volleyball. It was just more of a patience thing," Davis said. "Be patient, be patient. With two little girls, I'm very patient now and being a dad now has helped me be patient with these guys. I trusted in them that we were going to win at the end."
A victory would have counted as the first in school history for Lewis, which was forced to vacate its championship from 2003 by the NCAA committee on infractions after it was determined the team used players who played professionally overseas.
"I think we gave you a match to remember for a long, long time in terms of energy and so I think it'll be a fun one to talk about and go back and watch," said Lewis coach Dan Friend, the national coach of the year. "I'm really proud of my guys and the heart that they showed.
"Maybe we didn't play as clean at times as we wanted to, but we found ways to scrap it out and give ourselves a swing for the win."
Not only did the championship feature a pair of teams from east of the Rocky Mountains for the first time, both are from the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association and greater Chicago area.
"It speaks volumes about the overall state of the game, which is great," Friend said. "Talking about the region in terms of Illinois and Midwest volleyball. If it was 18 bucks in terms of the ticket price, it was exciting to be a part of that, but we were just on the other end."
If there were any nerves, it wasn't for lack of familiarity. Separated by about 40 miles, it was the fourth meeting of the season between the schools. Lewis took both matches during the regular season -- Loyola's only two losses -- before the Ramblers returned the favor in the MIVA championship last week.
Loyola controlled most of the first set, but after holding a 19-17 lead, Lewis responded with three straight points to take its first lead. The Flyers closed out the set and got off to a good start in the second, but Loyola flipped the script -- it didn't lead until 21-20 -- to even things up.
Loyola's Cody Caldwell, Jaeschke and Jendryk; Lewis' Greg Petty and Geoff Powell; UC Irvine's Tamir Hershko; and Penn State's Aaron Russell were named to the all-tournament team.