AVCA Preseason Poll: Where we Stand

1 – Springfield
2 – SUNY New Paltz
3 – Vassar
4 – Stevens
5 – Rutgers-Newark
6 – Dominican
7 – St. John Fisher
8 – NYU
9 – Carthage
10 – Endicott
11 – Benedictine
12 – Lancaster
13 – Kean
14 – North Central
15 – Juniata

ARV – MIT, Aurora, Southern Virginia, Wells, MSOE, UC Santa Cruz, Wentworth

Just like that, we have our first Coaches Poll of 2021. It’s a good sign in so much as we might be gearing up for some D3VB soon, as I know I personally have been itching to watch some of these teams play this year.

In the decade (plus) I’ve been paying attention to the coaches poll, this one makes a fairly good amount of sense to me coming into the preseason. It’s by no means the worst coaches poll I’ve ever seen, and nothing on here is “that egregious”. Based off last years results, the current pandemic, and new team dynamics across the country I do not see anything to jarring in the placement of most of these programs.

The Coaches Poll is intrinsically an opinion metric, lets be very clear in that. These standings are mostly just for bragging rights, as they have absolutely no value when determining at-large bids for the NCAA tournament. However, what I have always found the coaches poll to be very good at doing was centering the D3 conversation around the programs you need to be aware of during any given season.

Whether they are in the top 15 or receiving votes, every one of the programs above can play. They all have established themselves in the national landscape and having them on your schedule during a season is better than not having them. The wins and losses throughout the year will reveal who stands atop the division numerically but knowing who you must beat as a program to get there is always helpful.

Everyone always has an opinion regarding the coaches poll every week, but unlike everyone else, I run a website devoted to D3 men’s volleyball. I have the luxury of publishing mine. Below are some things I like, things I don’t like, and questions I have moving forward throughout the year.

Things I like

1. The Top 5

Through my research of incoming classes combined with the results of last season, I think the top 5 in this preseason poll is a fairly accurate representation of the division beginning the season. The battle between Springfield and New Paltz will remain a huge storyline throughout 2021. Springfield earned the #1 ranking with their 5-set victory over New Paltz last year, so they stand above the Hawks until we get into actual matches. Vassar, Stevens, and Rutgers-Newark from 3-5 make sense, regardless of Vassar having beaten New Paltz and Rutgers having beaten Stevens.

2. North Central Coming in Hot at 14

I was beyond astounded to see North Central break into the Top 15 in the preseason poll. Not because I do not think they are deserving, but merely because D3VB has had such a large east coast bias since its inception. It is beyond difficult for Midwest programs to gain national attention for reasons beyond me, but Coach Exline is building something special in North Central. Where the program eventually finishes is up to them, but if you have North Central on your schedule, I strongly advise you not to sleep on them.

3. Juniata at 15

This is by no means a shot at Juniata, as I really like them here for a variety of reasons. The program, in my opinion, underperformed last season compared to their talent level, they weren’t even ranked in the final coaches poll. They have a strong core supplemented by an incredibly talented freshmen class, and I think other coaches are aware of that too. I see them having the potential to move into the top 10 with solid performances in CVC conference play.

Things I don’t like

1. Bubble Status for Aurora and Southern Virginia

I might be higher on these two programs than most honestly, but I think both teams are very talented. They can definitely play with the top 15’s this year, and I believe they would beat several of them given the chance. Receiving votes keeps you in the conversation, but nobody brags about receiving votes.

Initial thoughts moving forward

First and foremost, a preseason poll is exactly that, a preseason poll. It will largely be irrelevant by seasons end. So hopefully no one puts to much stock into it.  But I’ve been researching the division fairly studiously since the past summer (since that is the whole purpose of FrogJump) and the poll is itself a gauge on the opinions of select D3 coaches regarding the division. In reality, we are all evaluating the same information. Also, in reality, we are only evaluating information we have access too, and some may have better gauges on things than others.

1. The Kean Question: No team enters this year as a bigger question mark than Kean. Unranked last year, the coaches poll is reflective in my mind of the landscape acknowledging the potential of this squad. In my own opinion their talent level is not reflected by this ranking, and in a normal season I could easily see this squad shooting up the ranks into the top 5. I’ve written about them briefly before, but I’ll say it again. The roster is capable of competing for a championship this year, its on them to do it.

1. The 5-7 Dance: Rutgers-Newark, Dominican, St. Johns Fischer. These three schools occupied my personal 5-7 slots in my own hypothetical ranking to start the year, and they do again in the coaches poll. I think all three schools are going to dance around each other in this range for the entirety of the season (whatever it ends up looking like).

Rutgers-Newark is good, but they are the one I’m most bullish on when it comes to maintaining a top 5 perch. The season ended last year before we really got to see them play the bigger matches on their schedule. They had an early win over Stevens at the beginning of the year, but a loss to Lancaster Bible along with not getting results from scheduled matches against NYU, New Paltz, Southern Virginia, Juniata, and Rivier leaves suspicions. I look forward to them proving me wrong.

Dominican enters the season as the highest ranked Midwest team, and will be challenged by NACC counterparts Aurora, MSOE, and Benedictine in conference play. In a regular season we would definitely see them play Carthage (and I wish we could this year) but we will most likely have to do without that matchup because of Covid.

St. John Fisher enters the season with higher expectations than most programs (absent Kean). The team has an outside shot of challenging for the UVC championship with the developed talent on the roster. Many coaches I’ve spoken with have their eyes on them this year, and I truly believe they will break into the Top 5 at one point or another. Let me be clear about one thing, if you can win the UVC most years, you can win a national championship. I believe St. John’s has aspirations to prove they’ve ascended to the level of a national power and it starts with beating New Paltz and Vassar for the UVC crown.

2. Benedictine: Benedictine is in an interesting spot, as the Coaches poll putting them at 11 is 3 spots higher than where they ended their season last year. I will be honest in saying I was not able to find out too much information regarding their incoming class, but with their rosters finalized I can rectify this gap in my own knowledge. I was high on this team last year (probably too high for my own good), and if the landscape feels they’ve made improvements since 2020 I’ll be all the happier.

3. The Poll is not Gospel: Stevenson, Rivier, Cal Lutheran, Arcadia, Alvernia… just a handful of schools that did not receive votes that can play good volleyball. They are not the only ones either (just the first five I thought of while writing). The D3 Landscape has gotten both wider and deeper. There are more quality programs playing than at any point in Collegiate Volleyball history, and that is amazing.

Only 15 of the 100 plus D3 programs in the country make the poll, but that does not take away from the skill of other programs. I was on an unranked New Paltz team that almost won the inaugural UVC Championship by defeating 2 of 3 top 15 programs in our Conference tournament. Our 5-set loss came to the 2011 D3 National Champion Nazareth (the best Nazareth team to ever exist). The moral of this thought is simply do not sleep on anyone just because there is no ranking next to their team name on your schedule. There’s a ton of talent in D3 at any given point, and the only number that matters at the end of the day is the number of Wins/Losses.