Landscape 2021 – The MAC

For this entry in the landscape series we will look at one of the newer volleyball conferences to join the DIII scene, the Mid Atlantic Conference (MAC). The MAC first sponsored Men’s Volleyball as a sport in 2018, and many of the current conference members likewise have young DIII programs.

The first two MAC Championships were played between conference rivals Stevenson (2018 Champion) and Arcadia (2019 Champion). Stevens Institute of Technology (Stevens) left the UVC for the MAC in 2020, and we were poised to see a possible shakeup in the division’s hierarchy before the Covid cancelation. I will be the first to say I am rather excited to watch the MAC conference this year. Many of the younger programs are coming of age, and several older ones will have to take notice as I believe we are one/two years away from a tier realignment.

Stevens: I do not believe I can ever remember a time where Stevens was not considered a good team in DIII. To this day Pat Dorywalski is the only coach not named Charlie Sullivan or Radu Petrus to win the NCAA DIII Championship; Stevens is still a contender in the national landscape and you can never be wrong in assuming they will make the NCAA Tournament.

Stevens ended 2020 as the 5th best team in DIII according to the NVA/AVCA Coaches Poll. They went 18-4 with significant wins over #3 New Paltz, #13 MIT, UCSC (NR), Arcadia (NR), and Juniata while picking up losses against #2 NYU, #6 Rutgers-Newark, and #11 Endicott. Stevens loses three seniors from their starting line up in All-American David Lehman (OP), Jonathan Frenzel (MB), and Michael Snajder (L). The only confirmed freshmen I have for Stevens is MB Jacob Stark out of Illinois, and no word has been given on whether these three seniors will return for another year. Regardless, Stevens in my mind earns the benefit of the doubt, and I have them firmly atop the conference until another team knocks them off.

Stevenson: Even with a 3-0 loss to conference rival Arcadia, I had Stevenson as the 2nd best team in the MAC going into 2020. They were ranked for seven straight weeks in the NVA/AVCA Coaches poll (highest at 10). All-American Logan Smiley (OH), All-MAC selections Nate Reynolds (MB), Derek Tangora (L), and Kyle Bosko (MB) were a solid core surrounded by great pieces that could have sent Stevenson to their 3rd straight MAC Conference Finals.  They would end 2020 with a 12-5 record, with good wins over #8 Lancaster Bible College Southern Virginia (NR), Rivier (NR), Alvernia , and California Lutheran. Their losses came against #1 Springfield, #3 New Paltz, #6 Rutgers-Newark, Arcadia (NR), and Juniata (NR).

I have not heard much on their incoming class, but soon to be Freshman Aidan O’Brien (MB) joins the program just when they need him most. One of the biggest pieces of news for 2020 is the transfer of Junior Nate Reynolds (MB) to Springfield University. Bosko graduates, but Tangora is rumored to be returning for a 5th year. California Lutheran transfer Grant Nelson (S) will also be joining the Mustangs and can compete for the starting Setter spot. At this point I still have Stevenson as the second best team in the MAC even with the loss of Reynolds.

Arcadia: I must give it up to Arcadia, they probably played one of the toughest schedules of any team in DIII last year. This team went 11-10 during a season I believe they had high hopes for. Their nine DIII losses came against #1 Springfield, #2 NYU, #3 New Paltz, #4 Vassar, #5 Stevens, #6 Rutgers-Newark, #14 Benedictine, Elms (NR) and Messiah; none of these teams are slouches, and Arcadia was considered a top ten team for the majority of the year.

This team graduates nine seniors, including All-American Austin Braas (MB). This is a large chunk of elder leadership for any program, especially when many of those seniors earned solid amounts of playing time throughout the season.

We do not know quite yet whether any of these seniors will return; but I will admit the future is not so bleak in Arcadia. Colin Nissley and Dylan Zimmerman have impressed in the moments I’’ve seen them play, and they are getting serious help from the Arcadia recruit class. Of all the freshmen classes I have seen this year, I believe Arcadia has brought in both a solid and well-rounded class top to bottom (I could go on about them all, but it would make this section of the piece incredibly long). Many of these young men can contribute as freshmen, and I am excited to see the on-court formula Arcadia displays in 2021.  

Misericordia: Coach Robert Wingert is a known face in the DIII volleyball community, a former CVC Player of the Year out of Stevenson University, 2016 NCAA semi-finalist, and finalist for the OfftheBlock setter of the year award in 2016. Under his stewardship Misericordia has steadily built an improving program since its inception in 2017.

Misericordia does not graduate any seniors from its 2020 squad. They return 2nd-team All-MAC selection Ryan Miller (OH) and All-MAC honorable mention Connor Westerfield (L) alongside Matt Levin (MB, 2nd in MAC hitting % and 14th in NCAA). Of their incoming class I see freshman Anthony Depalma (OH) being able to contribute immediately, providing Misericordia some extra firepower at the pins.

Messiah: Messiah’s inaugural NCAA season began in 2018 and they have been building something special ever since. The 2020 season was shaping up to be the programs best season in their short history, and they ended going 12-5. Those five losses came to #6 Rutgers-Newark, Juniata (NR), Southern Virginia (NR), Marymount (NR), and Stevenson (NR).  With wins over Alvernia and Arcadia (NR) they showed last year they have the talent to challenge in the MAC and were bound for a MAC playoff berth.

With the vulnerabilities of Stevenson and Arcadia, Messiah would normally have a good chance to shock the conference next year and compete for a MAC finals berth, but they will have their own losses to address. Caleb Weaver (L) and Noah Shreiner (MB) are both seniors and former 1st-team All-MAC selections. Messiah will need to replace their production in order to take the next step as a program. Rising senior Matt Knab (S, 2nd-team All-MAC) alongside rising sophomores Mason Nissley (OH) and Nate Bowman (MB) make this team interesting to watching going into 2021.

Alvernia: I am extremely excited to see how Alvernia performs in 2021. The program started in 2017, and I believe 2020 would have been the moment they turned the corner to become recognized within DIII. While the season ended prematurely, Alvernia enters 2021 better then most.

The team loses their starting opposite in Spencer Mathews, but they gain a big weapon with the transfer of Tyler Anderson (OPP) from Elmira to fill that rotational need. The rest of the team returns, with the addition of Anderson alongside standout freshmen Brian Rhea and All-MAC selections Victor de Avila (MB) and John Demeter (L) Alvernia will be competitive next year.

Wilkes / Widener / Eastern/ King: The following programs are all relatively new in the volleyball landscape, many having only been formed within the last two years. For now, I do not see them challenging the upper or mid-tiers of the conference just yet as they are still developing team cultures and recruiting pipelines. King College may surprise some people next year, as I think they scored one of the best DIII prospects in Jared Piontkowski, a 6’10 MB formerly committed to Ohio State.