Impact Freshmen: 2021

I never could have imagined six months ago that we would still be here in the middle of a pandemic, and our spring volleyball season still seems to be up in the air. I can’t predict the future, and whatever route the pandemic takes will without a doubt will impact the upcoming DIII spring season. I am merely a DIII volleyball fan, and it’s easier just to speak about our division then try to predict the course of a once in a generation anomaly like Covid.

The statistical impact of freshmen is a hot button issue in the DIII landscape. In the grand scheme of things, most of the athletes in any particular freshmen class are simply not going to make an impact on the division as a whole. While they may have been dominant in High School, the college game is intrinsically different even at the DIII level. The expectation is for 17/18-year-old athletes to compete with 20-22 year old young men at the higher levels of DIII play. The competition is stronger, the game is faster, and the stakes are higher. Likewise, the best athletes on any High School team are now joining programs where everyone on their team was likely in the upper echelon of athletes on their high school teams. The odds are forever stacked against freshmen to break through in their first year.

This is not to say that Freshmen cannot make waves in their inaugural year. A multitude of scenarios in any given program lead to opportunities for freshmen to break into line-ups. These scenarios are too exhaustive to list, but they do occur, and talented newcomers have always been able to take advantage of these opportunities to prove themselves. Over the last ten years the Freshmen classes of 2013 and 2019 were particularly strong, leading to marked shifts in power within the DIII landscape. Freshmen from those years would make All-American teams, win conferences, national championships, and rewrite the fates of programs that are still in effect to this day.

Over the summer I reviewed as many recruit classes as I could, and I think we may be experiencing another deep influx of talent with the class of 2020. Whether they meet the same heights as the 2013/2019 classes is yet to be seen, but I do believe several athletes from this group will make a name for themselves in the coming years.

This list is by no means exclusive and these names are not listed in any meaningful ranked order. Several athletes from this class are worth mentioning and I hope to be able to feature them in future pieces as the season gears up. But these young men definitely caught my eye talent wise this year, and I imagine they will force programs to take notice once the season begins.

Austin Richards (S) – Springfield

The big recruit news of the off-season was the commitment of Austin Richards to Springfield. Austin Richards is the best setting prospect to join D3 since Christian Smith of New Paltz. Richards joins a Springfield squad loaded with All-Americans and primed for a national championship run.

I thoroughly believe Richards has the talent to make this already dangerous Pride line-up stronger, and that is a scary thing for the rest of DIII. If you didn’t know his name before this year, you will know it by the end of 2021.

Alejandro Garcia Fernandez (OP) – Eastern Nazarene

Possessing one of the best arm swings of any freshmen this year, Alejandro Garcia Fernandez will join Eastern Nazarene for the 2021 season. The younger brother of BYU standout Gabi Garcia Fernandez, Alejandro comes from the well regarded Boriquen Coqui volleyball club. He has the power to put balls away and I see many highlight level plays coming in his future.

He is a little undersized at OP (6’3), but I think everyone is undersized at OP these days (I blame Joe Norman). As he gets stronger, it won’t matter. I see teams having a hard time stopping him as he grows within the division.

Jake Baker (OH) – St. John Fischer

A 6’5 Outside from Pace Bootlegger, Jake Baker headlines a strong recruiting class for St. John Fischer University. He is a prospect with the necessary talent to compete/challenge for the OH2, and I strongly suspect he will secure the spot by the beginning of the season. Together with Josh Bigford, SJF might have the best outside tandem on the East Coast by the end of the season (sorry Springfield).

The team looks to be very pin reliant coming into 2021, meaning Baker is going to have a fair number of opportunities to put up numbers. The UVC is a shark tank, but the addition of Baker gives SJF the extra firepower they need to compete with New Paltz, Vassar, and NYU.

Tyler Goldsborough (OH) – Juniata

Tyler Goldsborough is one of a trio of promising Exeter High School seniors joining the Eagles in 2021 (the other two being setter Reese Ganter and middle Luke Hoffman). He is a skilled Outside coming into a program that needs talent at the position; Juniata’s starting outside tandem of Fick and Cavanaugh were seniors last year (no word on if they are returning for a 5th year).

It’s very likely the entire Exeter trio could see the court this year due to their skill level, but Goldsborough fills the immediate need at Outside for the Eagles and will get plenty of chances to showcase his talent in a very competitive CVC conference.

Jared Piontkowski (MB) – King College

No one is going to cast a larger shadow in D3 this year than Jared Piontkowski. The 6’9 former OSU commit will be taking his talents to King College for the upcoming season, joining his older brother on the Monarch’s roster.

He headlines a group of eight freshmen joining the King program in 2021. Piontkowski may need a year to develop with the speed of the game within the MAC, but even so I do believe he will end the season as one of the better middles within the conference. He may have the highest ceiling (literally) out of all freshmen coming into the season.

Honorable Mentions

Jacob Kim (S) / AJ Erickson (S) – Vassar

Steven Koja’s departure from Vassar this season leaves a void at Setter for the Brewers. Luckily, Coach Gary has two starting caliber setters joining the program in 2021. Jacob Kim and AJ Erickson are both very good, and each have their own intrinsic strengths that will complement the Brewers returning core of players. Arguably, either one of them could start, and either one of them would win games. It will come down largely to who the team plays better with, and we won’t know that answer till the season starts.

Let us know what Freshman you think will have an impact in 2021, follow us on Twitter and Instragram @FrogJumpVball and gives us a name! Ribbet.