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CHICAGO – Loyola of Chicago opposite hitter Joe Smalzer no longer has a chip on his shoulder about being an underdog.
California schools have long dominated men's volleyball while only a few other schools have won a national title. Top-seeded Loyola joined the elite group, beating third-seeded Stanford 3-1 on Saturday night for the Ramblers' first NCAA men's volleyball title.
For any doubters, Smalzer can point to Loyola's NCAA trophy.
"We show it by how we play," Smalzer said. "We were ranked No. 1 I think all but two or three weeks this year. For all the people that are hating on us, look at the scores. Look at the wins. Look at our record."
Schools west of the Rockies have won 40 of the 45 NCAA titles. Penn State won two championships, and Ohio State one. Lewis' 2003 title was vacated due to player eligibility.
"Before this year, we had never been ranked higher than seventh or eighth," libero Peter Jasaitis said. "For us to put this together, not just make a Cinderella run at the end, but really be consistent all year, work hard all year, stay focused all year on and off the court, you can't help but be proud about it."
Cody Caldwell had 20 kills and Thomas Jaeschke and Smalzer each had 12 kills for Loyola (29-1), which won the final set 25-15. The Ramblers won their final 27 matches after losing to Southern California on Jan. 4.
Brian Cook had 15 kills for Stanford (24-9), and Steven Irvin added 10. The Cardinal, the national champion in 1997 and 2010, are 3-1 overall against Loyola.
"There's a lot of athletes out there who can play at a high level," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "There's not enough places for them to go, so we keep seeing teams getting better and better.
"(Loyola coach) Shane Davis has done a tremendous job in recruiting. He's gotten into the southern California schools. He's pulled local kids. He's done a really nice job pulling this team together."
Davis was 23 when he took the Loyola job in 2003. A couple years ago, he wondered if he should continue coaching. Then the Ramblers qualified for their first NCAA tournament last year, losing to UC-Irvine in the semifinals.
"This year, it was a little bit less pressure put on myself," Davis said.
Loyola hit .452 to Stanford's .266. The Ramblers hit .696 to win the first set 25-17. After Stanford hit .444 to take the second set 25-19, Davis said he emphasized the Ramblers step up their serving. Loyola hit .500 in the third to win 25-19 and .400 in the fourth to win 25-15.
The Ramblers had 8½ blocks to Stanford's 5½.
"We ran into a hot and a hot serving team tonight," Kosty said. "They kept us off guard and off balance all night long. We struggled to get into system."
Loyola has won one only one other national title __ in men's basketball in 1963.
"Hopefully, it's going to be sooner than 50 years before we have another one," Davis said.
The Ramblers credited their homecourt support. A sold-out crowd of 4,485 attended.
The Cardinal will keep that in mind. Stanford hosts the NCAA tournament next year.
"You see the looks on their faces and the looks on ours," Stanford's Conrad Kaminski said. "You definitely want to be on their side of the net. Going into next year, that's all the motivation we need to be in that spot."
Caldwell was selected the tournament's most outstanding player. Stanford's James Shaw, Cook, Jaeschke, Smalzer, Loyola's Peter Hutz and BYU's Taylor Sander made the all-tournament team.