The next piece in the landscape series highlights the second powerhouse conference in DIII men’s volleyball; the Continental Volleyball Conference (CVC). Much like the UVC, the CVC has historically been one of the deeper and more competitive conferences in Division III. The two go back and forth every year attempting to claim the mantle of “Toughest Conference”, and CVC teams are no stranger from NVA/AVCA rankings.
Currently, only one of the top programs in the CVC ended 2020 on the NVA/AVCA top 15 poll. Throughout the season a total of 3 programs were ranked in the top 15, and the upcoming season might see a return for a few new faces.
Rutgers-Newark: First year head coach Jack Wilson earned his pay this year. The team ended 2020 going 17-1 after a 16-10 season in 2019. During this stretch they earned big wins over Stevenson (NR) , Arcadia (NR), and #5 Stevens University. Even more impressive, this surge in performance was largely done without a heavy upperclassmen contingent; Coach Wilson will start 2021 with his entire starting lineup barring student transfers.
As of this point, I haven’t been able to get information on their incoming freshmen class. Rutgers-Newark will return two freshmen All-Americans in freshmen Setter Justin Tuohy and freshmen Opposite Andrew Zalek. 1st-Team All CVC sophomore Daniel Quay (MB) completes the youth trifecta powering Rutgers-Newark. Currently, Rutgers-Newark is ranked 6th in the NVA/AVCA Coaches Poll, I believe they can improve this ranking going into next season. Expect to see them in the CVC finals.
Juniata: If there is any school currently that competes as volleyball royalty with Springfield, it’s Juniata. One of the original Blue Chip schools, during the Molten Era Juniata won 6 national championships (1998, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2009), but hasn’t been able to replicate this level of success since the foundation of the NCAA tournament. I actually feel the 2020 Juniata team had a lot of potential talent wise to make some noise, as they were ranked for six straight weeks in the coaches poll (7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15). Their covid shortened season ended with a 13-6 record, but 4 four of their six losses occurred in 5 set matches. These losses came against #5 Stevens, conference rival Southern Virginia University (NR), #4 Vassar, and Arcadia (NR). Anything can happen in set five, and if these losses go the other way this Juniata team is viewed entirely differently.
Sadly, 4 of the starting 7 of Juniata’s lineup are seniors. These include Sean Cavanaugh (OH), Joe Fick (OH), 1st-team All-CVC Michael Young (S), and David Hibner (MB). We haven’t heard if any will return for the following season; but assuming they don’t Juniata will need to replace their production. The program keeps their strong core of 1st-Team All-CVC Robert Bowling (OPP), All-American honorable mention and 1st-Team All-CVC Kevin Duffy (MB) and junior libero Daniel Voronov. They have a solid incoming freshmen class with the potential to plug some holes (which includes a trio from Exeter HS headlined by Tyler Goldsborough), and if any of the seniors decide to return, this team will be very good and remain in the upper echelon of the CVC.
Southern Virginia University: I’m not going to mince words here, the 2020 Southern Virginia University team was incredibly fun to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them anytime I got the chance and if you’ve never seen them play, go to YouTube, type their name in, and go to videos (really… do it). This team lived and died at the pins. 1st-team All-Americans Paul Clark and Nahuel Recabbaren had heavy hands and could lay some leather, their middles only come in one size (extra large), they had cannons from the service line, and they have one of the most accomplished DIII coaches not named Charlie Sullivan at the helm in Dr. Tom Peterson. If 2020 didn’t end prematurely, I’d have predicted them to win the CVC championship.
Unfortunately this team theoretically loses a trio of valuable seniors. All-American Paul Clark (OH), Monte Tukumoeatu (L), 2nd-team All-CVC Kaipo Tagaloa (S) were all starters. The team retains Curtis Stone (MB), Nahuel Recabbaren (OH), McKay Walker (MB), Mark Stapley (OPP) and Sebastian Noble (L), which in itself is still a championship level core of athletes. Southern Virginia doesn’t announce incoming classes, but the one recruit I’ve been able to confirm coming in is Wayne “Chip” Baldwin (an OP who can seriously ball). We’ll have to wait until rosters are finalized in January to see what new talent joins them. The challenge will be if SVU can replace the production of Clark and Tagaloa, if they can do this they can contend for the CVC Championship.
Kean: This has to be the biggest question mark residing in the CVC. Before the 2020 season began, it was announced through the Volleyball grapevine (thank you Volleytalk) the entire senior class of Kean would take a year off of school in solidarity with one of their teammates who was undergoing treatment for Cancer; they pledged to return the following year when he was ready to play. This was a truly admirable act and I commend these young men for it.
Without their senior class, Kean went from a 22-7 team in 2019 to a 7-10 team in 2020. Freshmen standout Jared Ray (OH) would earn a 1st-Team All-CVC while Juniors Jonathan Meyer (L) and Seth Russel (OH) would earn 2nd-team honors. They have 8 incoming freshmen, and are returning supposedly 7 super seniors. Of the returning seniors, Ian Capp (S) is a former 2nd-team All-American and Stephen Zarzycki (OH) is a former 1st-team All-CVC selection. Kean will have a HUGE pool of talent in 2021, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are secretly the actual favorites for the CVC Championship. I won’t anoint them just yet, but they should be a premier team on every radar, and will most likely return to the upper echelon of the CVC and DIII.
Marymount: Marymount is two years separated from being a top 10 DIII program, having ended the 2018 season as the 7th best team in DIII. The program had a rough start in 2020, but ended the season 12-9 with a signature 3-0 win over #7 Dominican University. They were led all season by 2nd-team All-American senior Sam Safley (OH) and senior 1st-team All-CVC Joseph Zanelotti. Zanelotti is rumored to be returning, alongside a solid recruit in Caden Kelty (OP). I don’t believe they can challenge for the CVC championship just yet, but I have heard they have a big recruiting class this year.
Eastern Mennonite University: Like Marymount, EMU is two years separated from a 20 win season (their first win in 2018 was over SUNY New Paltz). The program has since gone in full rebuild mode, having gone a combined 7-27 over the last two seasons.
Elizabethtown/Nuemann/Randolph Macon/ Immaculata: These schools are all very young DIII programs, most having been started after the 2017/18 season. They’re still in the process of building cultures and finding their footing, and until then shouldn’t really be challenging the upper tier CVC teams. Of these programs, I believe Elizabethtown is the closest to breaking into the mid-tier in the CVC with the acquisition of graduate transfer Matt Schaefer from Juniata.