STANFORD, California — Thomas Jaeschke couldn't quite believe Loyola-Chicago's marathon fifth set against Lewis — and he was in the thick of it.
Jaeschke thought that the Ramblers had their second straight NCAA men's volleyball championship in hand at one point during the deciding set, but the official gave the point to Lewis.
"It was like, who can put the ball away? Who can keep grinding?" the national player of the year said. "I give a lot of credit to Lewis. They pushed us super far. And I've got to give a ton of credit to our guys. I thought we played for each other out there."
In the end Loyola-Chicago needed 10 championship points to finally seal the 21-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-27 23-21 victory on Saturday night.
Jaeschke had 20 kills and Jeff Jendryk added 17 and a match-high nine blocks for the Ramblers (28-2) in the epic clash between two Chicago-area schools at Stanford's Maples Pavilion. It was the first title game between two non-West Coast teams in tournament history.
Greg Petty had 23 kills for Lewis (27-4) in the fourth meeting between the two teams this season.
"Well, I think we gave you a match to remember for a long, long, time," Lewis coach Dan Friend said.
Just a week ago, Loyola-Chicago beat then-No. 1 Lewis in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association final. Lewis won both regular-season meetings between the two teams 3-1.
Loyola-Chicago swept Pfeiffer of North Carolina in a tournament play-in game Tuesday before defeating UC Irvine in a semifinal match Thursday night.
Lewis advanced with a 3-1 victory over Penn State in the semifinals.
The Ramblers jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the first set as Lewis appeared tentative. But the Flyers got stronger throughout the set and closed within 15-13 after Geoff Powell's ace. Jake Selsky's ace evened the match at 19-all, and Lewis pulled ahead on Powell's kill. Petty spiked for set point for the Flyers, who were able to overcome seven service errors.
Lewis pulled in front 15-10 in the second set and Loyola looked out of sorts, making uncharacteristic mistakes. But the Ramblers narrowed the gap to 20-18 after Nicolas Olson's monster block.
Cody Caldwell's kill evened it at 21, and Loyola finished the set with three stuff blocks, including one for set point from Jeff Jendryk and Pete Hutz top make it 1-1.
Loyola rode the momentum into the third set, going up 6-0. Jaeschke's kill extended it to 12-4 and Olson spiked to claim the set and put the Ramblers up 2-1.
Lewis sprang to life in the fourth, fighting off match point twice before pulling in front on Powell's kill. His ace sent the match to a fifth and deciding set.
Caldwell's ace and a timely block put Loyola in front 7-6. Powell's cross-court slam evened the set at 9 but Loyola wouldn't surrender the lead.
Lewis again held off match point twice, pulling to 14-13. Petty spiked to make it 14-all and the teams wrestled the rest of the way until Caldwell's block gave Loyola the advantage and the team stuffed Petty's spike for the win.
"I just always try to be aggressive on balls like that," Petty said. "So I just go up and swing and see what happens."
Loyola coach Shane Davis said: "We had our big lineup in at that point. I saw it coming and I was just praying that all six hands were across the net and they were. It was an unbelievable moment."
Jaeschke, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter, was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year earlier this week. He had nine kills in the semifinal victory over the Anteaters.
"I think it was a statement," Jaeschke said of the second championship. "But it was a product of a lot of hard work."
Last season, the Ramblers beat top-seeded Stanford 3-1 for the school's first NCAA championship.
Lewis, which had never before faced the same team four times in a season, was the nation's top blocking team with an average of 3.39 per game — the only team to average more than three.
A Division II Catholic school of about 6,800 students, Lewis has been steadily growing its volleyball program. The Flyers won the national title in 2003, but later vacated it because of ineligible players.
Friend, named the coach of the year, has led the program's resurgence.
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