The NECC is one of the weaker conferences in the DIII landscape, normally ruled with an iron grip by Endicott, a former NECVA school with an established volleyball tradition. Over the last few seasons Elms has emerged to contest Endicott’s conference supremacy, and the two have since sat atop the conference largely unchallenged. I do not see any of the teams challenging them this season barring any surprises, as the talent difference between them and the rest of the conference is pretty gaping.
#11 Endicott: Endicott is currently the only NECC team to be ranked in the NVA/AVCA Coaches Poll and have honestly been an interesting program to watch over the last few years. The 2019 Gulls put together one of the best seasons in program history. If not for the miraculous 5th set comeback by New Paltz in their 2019 quarterfinal match, I believe the Gulls had the pieces and talent to win the National Championship in 2019.
The 2019/20 Endicott team would lose four seniors who were crucial in their on-court success in the previous season. I will be the first to admit that I looked at this loss of senior leadership as too much to overcome (maybe I overvalue senior presence) and assumed Endicott would fall short of their 2019 performance.
I was very wrong in this assumption. Even with an opening 5-set loss to the UC Santa Cruz in their first match, this team would finish the shortened season with a 13-3 record. Their 3 losses came to #4 Vassar, #9 St. John Fischer, and UC Santa Cruz (NR). They had notable wins over #5 Stevens, #13 MIT, #15 MSOE, and Wentworth (NR).
Much like 2019, the 2020 Gulls lose core members of their starting line-up. 1st-Team All-American and NECC Player of the Year Bryn Lipton, 1st-Team All-NECC Donovan Dey, and 2nd-Team All-NECC Chad Riorden all graduate (assuming they do not take advantage of their Covid-waiver years).
Even so, I will not make the mistake I made last season. Endicott brings in a solid recruit class which includes starting caliber players to fill their need at setter, they have the best NECC middle tandem in Felicetti and Kasprzak and have more depth than any other team in the conference. I have them firmly atop the NECC until a team can knock them off.
Elms: While Endicott is seeking to replace senior production, a youth movement is coming of age in Elms. 1st-team All-NECC Antonio Delgado returns to lead a group of rising 2nd-Team All-NECC juniors including OH/OP Diego Hernandez, MB/OP Daniel Martinez, and S Carlos Mercado.
This core went 11-9 during a incredibly tough 2020 schedule. Of their 9 losses, 7 came against teams ranked at least twice in the NVA/AVCA poll. These losses were to #1 Springfield, #4 Vassar, #5 Stevens (2x), #13 MIT, Arcadia (NR), and Rivier (NR). The team’s notable wins in 2020 were over #9 St. John Fischer and Arcadia (NR).
The huge loss for Elms is the rumored transfer of Jeremy Torres (2nd-team All-American) to Springfield University. I have been unable to confirm news on Elm’s incoming class of freshmen, but even with losing Torres, I have them starting as the 2nd best team in the NECC and should challenge Endicott for the NECC Championship.
Nichols: Nichols is in the mid-tier of the NECC coming into 2021. They have some nice pieces in Ray Wang and Lance Law and have developed the necessary skills to defeat the lower tier teams of the conference. Sadly, the team is lacking a lot of height and Wang and Law are forced to carry a large portion of the offense. Incoming freshmen Tanner Soracco (MB) should provide a taller presence at the net, but for now I think it’s an uphill battle for them to win the NECC.
Eastern Nazarene: While I considered Eastern Nazarene mid-tier last year, it was mostly on the basis that they play well enough to beat the poorer teams in DIII while struggling against recognizable programs, as evidence by their not so close 4-set loss to Nichols last season and lack of wins over ranked programs.
However, I have a suspicion Eastern Nazarene is going to be bringing in some solid pieces solidifying their mid-tier status in the NECC (possibly above Nichols) and set them up to take big leaps forward in the next few years.
Dean/Lesley/Northern Vermont-Johnson I don’t have any information of the recruit classes of Dean and Northern Vermont, I’ve listed Lesley’s in the commitment page, but even so these programs are all relatively young and remain in the lower tier of the NECC for now.