Another exciting week of D3 matches; let us dive in!
- Springfield: Not a surprise to anyone, the Pride remain number 1 in the division. The biggest news for the program is their start date! We’ll see this years Pride take to the court this weekend in a top 10 showdown with the Endicott in a home and home series!
- New Paltz: The hawks are officially back for the season, and this alumnus could not be happier. Rumor has it they will face St. John Fisher in their first contest of the season (not confirmed) and that we’ll have their schedule before the weekend (more on them later).
- Carthage: The next match for the Firebirds will be tonight against North Park, and then they will take on an Augustana team which just defeated North Central. I believe Carthage is still the heavy favorite in both contests based on probability, but they would do well not to sleep on Augustana.
- Vassar: I can finally confirm that the Vassar Brewers will return to the court in an opening match with Elmira on March 21st. Their full schedule will be released later, but of their ten game scheduled, FOUR of them will be against cross-town rival and fellow top program, SUNY New Paltz.
- Rutgers: The Scarlet Raiders just came off a weekend where the split with a tough Juniata program in two 5-set matches. Not the result any program wants as they try to propel themselves in the elite category of the division, but this team is young and they are only getting better.
- Benedictine: I specifically put off writing my D3 review until today because I wanted to catch the Benedictine vs. Aurora match last night. I have been able to watch most Aurora matches this year, and the team has only been getting better. I had this match on my possible upset alert (have the texts to prove it); conference games and home court advantage tend to blur talent lines regardless of teams (statistically proven) and Aurora has been looking for that signature win all season to announce they belong in the top 15.
Despite going down 2-0, Aurora was riding a big momentum wave coming into the 5th, but the Eagles continue to prove me wrong! The Eagles were able to avoid the reverse sweep and were able to build a 10-4 cushion in the deciding set that would be insurmountable for the Spartans. A win is a win, and the Eagles continue to do just that. Their next match is Friday against Lakeland.
- St. John Fisher: Not many programs are going to schedule Daemen for the opening contest, especially after the pandemic year we’ve just had! This St. John Fisher team is good, they showed the talent to compete at the top level of the division. St. John Fisher will live and die at the pins behind Bigford and Baker, but I have to acknowledge the increased middle production I saw in this match for the Cardinals.
Even more so, one of Harvey Pepperjacks personal all-stars Ivan Lopez really stepped up for the Cardinals against Daemen. If there was one player in that game who was able to spark SJF and provide the big point moments necessary to keep the squad fired up, it was him. The Cardinals next match is tonight against Nazarath, so for the UVC fans out their make sure you catch it (I know I will).
- Juniata: I was able to watch both matches between Rutgers and Juniata, and in my honest opinion Juniata was very capable of winning both of those games in 4. A win over Rutgers is no joke, but two wins would have been a statement and a half. They continue their slow climb up the rankings. Juniata’s next matches will be against Elizabethtown this weekend on Saturday, but their next shot at a ranked opponents comes March 20th, when they take on one of my favorite programs to watch, Southern Virginia University.
- Dominican: A quiet week for the Stars. Their next couple of matches are against the lower tier of the NACC (match against Marian might be the best one to watch). They will play formerly ranked MSOE at the tail end of their NACC schedule on March 30th, but I believe they will largely remain unbeaten until the post-season.
I still think this team on paper is the best team in their conference, and I know they are looking for a rematch with their conference rival Benedictine. The NACC tournament is going to be a shark tank, and Dominican will need to win it to claim their former crown as the Best of the Midwest.
- Endicott: As mentioned earlier, this years Gulls will take on Springfield this weekend in a home and home series! Not much else needs to be said. Can they shock the world?
- Southern Virginia: Outside of Lancaster Bible, Southern Virginia has not had the best schedule in terms of quality opponents. This will be rectified March 20th, where they will play Juniata in a double header. Before that they will have to get past a much-improved Marymount squad on March 13th, a team that pushed Juniata to the brink just a few weeks ago.
- Lancaster Bible: The Chargers last remaining match against a D3 opponent will be against Wilson college on March 17th.
- Stevens: The biggest upset of the weekend by far was the 3-1 loss to Misericordia by the former national power Stevens. Credit to Misericordia, they came in prepared and beat the team that was in front of them. It is a huge statement win for an up-and-coming program establishing itself in the landscape. Though Steven’s was able to win the rematch in 5, their once unshakeable hold on the MAC has now been broken.
From the conversations I have had across the landscape, everyone is smelling blood in the water. Messiah, Stevenson, Arcadia, Alvernia all have their eyes on the Conference Championship this year, and Steven’s will have to beat all to reestablish dominance.
- North Central: A tough loss to a strong Augustana team has one of my personal favorite Midwest teams falling down the rankings this week. Losses happen, especially when your team is young, but you have to beat the teams in front of you. NCC will seek to get back on track with a match against Loras tonight, a team they should not sleep on.
- Messiah: What a rise for the Falcons! After impressive performances last week this young program brakes into the top teams of the landscape for the first time in program history. Head Coach Justin Beachy has done a good job building a foundation, and Mason Nissley and Matt Knab continue to perform at All-American levels. Their next match is tonight against Stevenson, and its result might indicate the new top dog of the MAC.
Thoughts Moving Forward
- The Springfield vs. Endicott home-and-home series are easily premier set of matches for the weekend. Last years Springfield team was one of the heavy favorites to win the NCAA championship, and this year’s team on paper is MUCH better than last year’s team.
A lot of rumors have been circulating in the D3VB circles about locker-room issues within the Pride. The mere fact I am even hearing about such a thing is a shocker, mostly due to the culture of excellence that has been established within the program over the last decade and the program is normally very tight-lipped. Regardless, this Springfield team has pieces that would challenge with many of the other great D3 National Championship programs of ages past (not all, but many of them). Rumors are rumors, but what is true is that this Pride team is one of the most talented D3 squads in the last five years.
The Endicott Gulls were a surprisingly strong program last year after losing many key contributors from their Elite 8 run, and I will not count them out too early just yet. Many people I speak to think this team has top 5 potential; they’ll have a chance to prove it twice this weekend. As I asked earlier, can they shock the world?
- New Paltz and Vassar playing four matches this season might be a D3VB fans personal dream (and a personal nightmare for the loser of these matches). Normally teams will only have one or two opportunities to establish on court dominance, but here we have two Top 5 teams going head-to-head four times in the regular season.
The New Paltz squad has been looking to avenge their 5-set loss to the Brewers for a whole year, and the Brewers have been itching to prove it was not a fluke. Both teams will get their chance and more now. There is no better way to prepare for a championship run than by playing against championship caliber opponents.
- I can not stress this enough, but the Misericordia win over Stevens is a significant moment in the D3 Landscape. Stevens has been a perennial D3 power for about two decades, I personally cannot remember a time where they have a) not been ranked and b) lost to an unranked team (I’m sure it’s occurred but I can’t think of one moment off the top of my head). They are one of only three programs in the landscape to win an NCAA Championship. They have been that successful.
But the matches against Misericordia have exposed this year’s Ducks, and as I stated before teams are smelling the blood in the water. Many programs (myself included) automatically just assumed, based on reputation, that Stevens was a lock for the MAC Championship.
This is not the case anymore, and the MAC just became, in my opinion, the most interesting Conference Tournament to watch this post season (if we have one). I wrote about it in my Landscape Series this summer, but for those who missed that, there are a lot of quality programs in the MAC.
Alvernia, Arcadia, Messiah, Stevenson, Misericordia, and Stevens are the top half of the conference for now, and the MAC Tournament will take the top 5 teams for playoffs (#4 seed plays #5 seed in a play-in game). Messiah currently has a hold on the top spot in the conference for now, but we have not even seen Stevenson begin their quality matches yet.
Much can be said about Stevenson (in fact I have written about them several times) but the landscape has clearly forgotten they exist. I had Stevenson as the second strongest program coming into this season and based off their roster, they may be the favorites for the MAC Championship right now (they certainly have the talent for it). Their match tonight against Messiah is on my radar. A win for either program will cement their place as a top team in both the conference and D3 at large.
- As always, I end my review with my personal top 5. Not much has changed, but maybe this week will shake things up a bit.
2. New Paltz
5. St. John Fisher