Head coach Jeremy Thornburg led his fledgling Duhawk squad to Fort Wayne, IN, on Friday to take on Division I powerhouse IPFW. The matchup featured two programs from opposite ends of the college volleyball spectrum, and it played out much like it was billed, as the no. 13 Mastodons trampled the Duhawks in straight sets.
Aside from being Loras’ toughest test to date, the match held some extra significance for Thornburg, who got his start in coaching at IPFW under head coach Arnie Ball.
“It was a little overwhelming, to be honest,” Thornburg said. “I don’t usually get nervous before a match, but I was nervous before that one. I wanted to show everybody that we’ve been putting in the hard work, and I wanted everybody to be proud of that. There’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of anxiousness, a lot of nervousness, but once the first point got out of the way it was fine.”
While the Duhawks (3-13) were clearly outmatched on the court, they battled valiantly against one of the top programs in the nation.
Senior Michael Kreiser and first-year T.J. Esporas led the Duhawks with 5 kills each, with Kreiser adding 2 service aces. But as a team, Loras hit for only .039 in the match while committing 13 errors, and couldn’t push the match past 3 sets. IPFW (11-5) won 25-19, 25-10, and 25-17.
Despite the loss, Thornburg found plenty of positives to take away.
“We played some great defense, we passed better than IPFW, and our middles did good things,”said Thornburg. “I think the team was pleased with how they played, so that’s a positive thing.”
“It’s a rewarding feeling to know that they played really hard and they kept up,” continued Thornburg. “They did some things that were impressive not only to me, but to IPFW and the fans in the stands, and even some All-Americans who are former players at IPFW who came over and complimented us afterwards. That was probably the best feeling that I could get.”
Competing against IPFW is a challenge even for established Division I teams; for a young Loras program still trying to find its identity, the task may seem nearly impossible. Thornburg understood that when he made his team’s schedule.
“The team knows that I’ve scheduled tough for a reason,” Thornburg said. “With so many of them being first-years, I want them to know that we’ve already been in that situation by their sophomore year, so they can say ‘we’ve been there and done that’ when we play against the no. 1 team (in Division III) like we did this year against Stevens, or we play against a Division I team like IPFW.”
The Duhawks will next be in action on Wednesday, March 11, as they travel to Lisle, IL, to take on Benedictine. Visit Duhawks.com for the late result.