For this entry in our Landscape series we’ll be examining the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW). The conference is new to the D3 Landscape, as it’s inaugural men’s volleyball season happened during the covid shortened 2020 season. For 2021, things look interesting as some old and new faces battle for supremacy in this Midwest Conference.
Carthage has long been known as the original Blue Blood school of midwest volleyball. Prior to the formation of the NCAA D3 Championship, Carthage routinely had the pick of the top D3 talent throughout the Midwest, and essentially ruled the region for the better part of a decade. It is a school with a storied volleyball culture and tradition of top level play. 2020 was another year of excellence, as the Redmen ended their season 12-3, were 6-0 in conference, and placed 3 players on the All-Region team (Slivinski, Allard, Waumens).
Coming into 2021, the Redmen lose two starters and 1st-Team All-CCIW selections in Braeden Waumans (OH) and Jacob Allard (S) (no word on if they are returning for a 5th year yet); but their core of All-American Matt Slivinski (OH), freshmen standout Zach Bulthuis (MB), Bryce Thomas (OP), Kyle Cohan (L), and Parker Connolly (MB) is still a formidable lineup. They bring in a solid group of recruits to supplement their returners and should be one of the top 2 teams in the CCIW in 2021.
North Central College
North Central has done a lot of work to close the gap between themselves and Carthage, and I see them as the second of the top tier teams in the conference. The Cardinals ended 2020 with a 12-6 record, but were riding a hot streak after defeating #2 NYU, Augustana, and Loras.
Despite my projection I do think the Cardinals are vulnerable heading into 2021, as they theoretically lose their starting setter (Trunzo), two seniors middles (Hiller, Curtis), and their starting opposite (Eslinger). Trunzo and Eslinger were 1st-Team CCIW selections, and Eslinger was also selected to the All-Region team. Losing that amount of senior leadership is rough for any program.
However, the Cardinals still have (in my opinion) one of the top 5 outsides in D3, Jared Moser. Jeremy Cardenas is a 6’9 tower who has shown the potential to be one of the best at the position, and Kyle Vazquez (L) of Benedictine is transferring into the program. Further, Coach Exline has a huge recruiting class for 2021 which will fill their holes at middle and I can see Tyler Donovan competing for the starting setter spot.
Augustana is entering the crucial 4th year jump as a new program in the D3 Landscape. They ended the season 12-9, and were on pace to expand their highest win total in program history. They showed they could compete with some of the more established programs in the country, ending the year with victories of #14 Benedictine, Southern Virginia, UC Santa Cruz, and California Lutheran.
They don’t lose anyone in the starting line up to graduation, and return a collection of 2nd-team CCIW selections in Justin Murphy (OH), Matt Schiferl (L), Jason Szara (OH), and Luis Zavala (MB). Of their incoming class, Mathew Degnan (S) shows the potential to have an instant impact in their 6-2 offense. I have them solidly in the mid-tier of the conference to start the year.
Loras is one year removed from a 20 win season, but the Duhawks graduated a whole slew of performers and would face steep odds to rekindle the magic of 2019.
The Duhawks would start 5 freshmen in 2020, and they were an incredibly fun team to watch. Anders (L), Filotto (OH), Fiorenza (OH), Ellenbecker (OH), and Horn (S) were the faces of the youth movement in the program, and I don’t think they disappointed. The core shows a lot of promise, and after a year of getting used to the college game I believe Loras takes a big step forward this year.
I haven’t seen too much of their incoming freshmen class, barring any returners altering their plans due to Covid, I see the program taking the top spot of the mid-tier in the conference by the end of the season (possibly closing the gap somewhat with North Central).
North Park and Millikin
North Park and Millikin are the bottom two teams in the conference entering into 2021. While both programs are bringing in big 2021 classes, they have some work to do to ascend to the top of the conference.
Sadly, D3 loses Greenville college as a program, as they Team was reverted to a club sport beginning in 2021.
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