Welcome to the first of many “Pond Talks”. In this segment all three FrogJump writers have been given the same set of questions to answer. Each writer speaks from their own point of view, providing individual insight and opinions regarding the storylines of men’s D3VB. After reading, let us know in the poll who “won” the pond talk so we can have bragging rights till next week!
We’re now a few weeks into a rather interesting Covid Season. What team has stood out to you the most so far, (of those who have played). What players?
It has been an interesting year honestly, especially given the delayed start and the affect it’s been having on programs. But I would have to say the team which has stood out the most to me at this point in the season as a collective is North Central College in the Midwest. The program’s level of play has increased dramatically since last season when they were just breaking into the national scene. They have been in two of the best played matches of the season (versus Carthage and Loras respectively) and play a style of volleyball which I find very enjoyable.
Individually, Matt Slivinski of Carthage has been near unstoppable this year. Hard as it is to imagine, he has improved dramatically from his Junior year when he was already one of the premier Outside Hitters in the country. He is definitely in the conversation as an early candidate for player of the year.
Messiah has been the biggest standout team for me, and with that- Masson Nissley and Matt Knab. I thought this team was playing some great ball last year until the season’s untimely demise. This program clearly put a ton of work in during the off season with Nissley and Knab making big leaps as individuals. You could make an argument that Nissley is one of the best outsides in the country right now behind Brandow and Slivinski and he is doing it with an insane amount of volume.
Since I mentioned, Matt Slivinski and Carthage, they have also impressed me – clearly separating themselves from the rest of the midwest this year.
The team that has stood out to me the most thus far is Nazareth. In the (shortened) 2020 season, Naz was 10-13 and towards the bottom of the UVC. The win last week over a very competitive St. John Fisher program surprised me and put Naz into my top 15 rankings. Owen Wickens and Trent Caviness are exceptional additions to the program. This win puts Naz right there with Vassar to fight with (the still reigning champions) SUNY New Paltz for the top spot in the UVC.
What are your thoughts on Juniata splitting their double header with Elizabethtown?
Simply put, it was a great win for Elizabethtown and a bad loss for Juniata. Not really to much else to dive into on the surface (but I’m going to anyway). Russ Rose (Penn State Head Coach for those who live under a rock) has openly said there’s a phase in every match where the underdog team has a chance to establish a path to victory. Conversely, there are points in each game where the favored team can slam the door shut on their opponents.
Juniata has struggled at times this year to close the door on opponents during the “big point” moments. This was evident to anyone who watched their 5-set matches with Rutgers. Juniata will get stronger from the experience, as shown in their 3-0 sweep of Elizabethtown in the nightcap. Kudos to Elizabethtown for seizing the moment, as being able to rally from a 14-11 deficit in set 5 is one of those legendary moments that will get passed down in their locker rooms for the next few years.
Juniata’s split with Elizabethtown doesn’t bring a ton of concern to me on the Juniata side. Elizabethtown was super fired up for the match led by graduate student, and Juniata alum Matt Schaeffer. Elizabethtown played with a ton of energy and earned their program a big win. I still think Juniata is a contender for the CVC title and will continue to improve as they settle in on what their top lineup is.
On Juniata’s behalf, I’m not too concerned about it. With the inexperience and starting freshmen they have on the court; this was bound to happen. What I thought to be more convincing about Juniata was how they were able to forget about the 5-set loss then take care of business for a 3-0 sweep in the 2nd match. Juniata will be a solid team for the next few years (at least), and this test of resiliency will only make them stronger.
We’ve had a bunch of matches the past few weeks that shook up the D3 Landscape. Which was more impactful, Lancaster Bible beating Kean, Misericordia beating Stevens, or Nazareth defeating St. John Fisher.
Misericordia beating Stevens has so far been the most impactful result on the D3VB landscape of the season. The MAC was by and large written off as already won by the Ducks, Misericordia’s win created a power vacuum that we are now seeing play out in real time. Stevenson, Messiah, Arcadia, and Alvernia all have eyes on a MAC post season berth, and all compete around the same level of play. With their recent 3-0 win over Messiah, Stevenson becomes the presumptive favorite in the conference until proven otherwise in my own view.
I’ll take Nazareth over St. John Fisher. For the past few years it seemed like the balance of power was shifting in Western New York as Fisher was on the rise and Nazareth was falling off. I do not think I would be out of place saying that SJFC had Final 4 or bust expectations coming into this season. Their early season performances combined with Hackford’s scary injury this weekend don’t bode well for 2021 goals.
Since I already touched on the importance of Naz taking down Fisher, I will say the next most impactful matchup was Misericordia over Stevens. This is impactful because it opens up the MAC for anyone to take. Stevens will not be a powerhouse in the MAC for at least the next couple of years barring an incredible recruiting class.
5. What lessons can/should we take away from the Springfield vs Endicott matches this weekend.
Three things, 1) the delayed start is affecting programs once it comes to match time, 2) Springfield is still Springfield 3) Endicott is much better than I anticipated.
Many programs were only recently allowed to practice 6-on-6 situations here on the East Coast. For those coaches who train as game-like as possible, this is a huge obstacle. You cannot really mimic the chaos and flow of any volleyball game via block practice, you must play to be ready to play. Many of the Midwest teams have been playing for nearly two months at this point, the MAC teams have been playing a little less than that. Quite a few east coast conferences only just recently allowed teams to congregate outside of pod work.
I am by no means surprised to see top end teams from the east coast performing “below expectations” in the eyes of fans, because these teams are only really starting to learn how to play together. Springfield still has one of the largest collections of talent of on its roster, which is to be expected of top 5 programs. They were very much favored to win their game against Endicott, and they did.
I underestimated Endicott coming into this year, what I saw out of their matches impressed me greatly (14 aces against Springfield on Sunday!). The Gulls will continue to get better, as they now know the bar they must play at to be in the top tier of teams. The lack of 6-on-6 practices definitely affected them, and that too will be mitigated with time. This team will be dangerous in April (assuming we have a post season).
Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to watch the matches. But based on the box scores- Brennan Brandow is still the best OH in the country and there are not many (if any) RS I would take ahead of Jarret Anderson. That is a dangerous combination to have.
The most important message I took away from these matches is that Springfield is a very beatable team. Yes, they have All-American talent on the court in Brandow and Anderson (among others), but showed signs of struggles. Unfortunately, this is Springfield’s only tough competition throughout the regular season, therefore I’m crossing my fingers that we have an NCAA tournament. I would like to see how they match up against teams like New Paltz and Vassar.
6. Who do you have as your Current top 5 teams in D3?
2. New Paltz
5. Benedictine (I almost put Endicott here)
2. New Paltz
1. New Paltz