Loyola's Joe Smalzer, left, hits the ball against Stanford's Brian Cook (10) and Spencer Haly (14). Credit: Courtesy AP Photos

In May the Ramblers topped Stanford 3 to 1 in their home gym to capture their first NCAA title—just the fifth won by a school outside of California. “It was kind of a storybook ending,” says coach Shane Davis. He seems to have a good thing going. Men’s volleyball has only been a varsity sport at Loyola for 16 years, and as he notes, “I’ve either played with or coached every player to come through the program.” Davis, a native of Iowa, was a four-year starter at Loyola from 2000 to 2003, finishing as a second-team All-American and establishing the school record for career assists. Three months after graduating, at age 23, he basically volunteered to fill the head coaching vacancy to help stabilize the program. “The athletic director said, ‘OK, here’s the keys to your office.’ I said to myself, ‘Now what do I do?'” A year later, the team won its conference, the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, and Davis was named its coach of the year. Some ups and downs followed, but he says he eventually learned to recruit, partly by assuring parents that he wasn’t too young to take care of their sons. He also touts the school’s academics and lakefront location, as well as a loyal fan base that packs the gym. “We are like the BCS football team at Loyola,” Davis says. In 2013 the team made it to the final four before losing to eventual titlist Cal-Irvine. That was the springboard for the big 2014 season, when the Ramblers finished with a 27-match winning streak. And most of their stars will be back in 2015. As Davis puts it in his understated fashion: “We feel we’re in a really good spot to make another run.”