QUINCY -- The difference between a nationally ranked NCAA Division I men's volleyball team and one fighting for respectability in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association is surprisingly subtle.
Quincy University coach Gavin Mueller believes the Hawks can continue to shrink that gap.
Friday night's 25-14, 25-20, 25-18 loss to No. 8 Loyola (Chicago) in the MIVA opener will go down as a sweep in which Quincy lost two sets by seven points or more. But Mueller looked at the fact the Hawks held the Ramblers to a .075 attack percentage in the second set as one of the signs progress is being made.
"We competed, and we kept competing," Mueller said. "We never let them go on too many runs. Their serves were coming in hot. We didn't give up though. We adjusted. We just kind of bit our teeth and kept going with it."
That was against a team whose average attack percentage is better than .400.
"I liked how we kept playing and kept playing," junior outside hitter Omari Wheeler said. "I know we got down in a couple spots, but we kept playing and stayed together and tried to stick together. If we do that, we'll battle with anyone any day."
It was the third time the Hawks have been swept this season, but it had a decidedly different feel than the loss to Long Beach State a week ago in which Quincy didn't score more than 17 points in any set.
The Hawks (4-7) had an attack percentage of better than .300 in two of the three sets and got 14 kills from Wheeler. Sophomore setter Matt Friddle dished out 20 assists, and freshman libero Noam Hannoun had nine digs.
"It gives us the sense we can play with the best teams in the nation and the best team in the conference, and we can possibly pull out a win at some point," Friddle said.
Even in the moments things went awry, the Hawks stayed united.
"Positive feedback," Friddle said. "It's the biggest thing. We give positive feedback so we don't shut down as a unit and so we continue to play hard."
Mueller doesn't foresee a time when he has to worry about a breakdown.
"Our chemistry, our culture, our everything is just together," Mueller said. "When one guy speaks up, they listen. There's nothing going over their head. They're actually hearing it instead of just nodding their head. They are taking in the information and utilizing it."
It's created the belief the Hawks aren't far from a breakthrough.
"The volleyball IQ is really growing every day in practice," Mueller said. "We're definitely getting somewhere."