D3VB Review: Kean Rises

I apologize readers! We had so many things going on in D3VB yesterday we determined it was necessary to postpone our release of the D3VB review until after the Wednesday matches, on top of that a technical glitch lead to me not being able to post the article until now (I forgot the FrogJump laptop on my way to to work). Let’s dive in!

  1. Springfield: The Pride continue to run over NECC competition, coming off a dominant win over Elms yesterday. They remain atop the landscape as the number one team in the coaches poll, and sit as the #2 ranked team in the East Region via the NCAA Regional Rankings.

  2. Carthage: The Firebirds cemented themselves as the Best in the Midwest with their win over Benedictine Wednesday. They sit at 14-0 and are approaching late season form smoother than every other program in the landscape. They stand now as the foil to Springfield this season given the struggles of New Paltz and Vassar, and are the top ranked program in the NCAA West Regional Rankings.

  3. Vassar: The Brewers split a double header with SUNY New Paltz on Wednesday. While Vassar got the 3-0 sweep in the night match, New Paltz pulled out the all-important conference win in the earlier match. Andrew Kim is staking an early claim to be one of the best Outsides in D3, and behind him and Gavin Van Beveren this Brewers team is showing the skill necessary to compete for a national championship. They are 6th in the Eastern rankings, which is not a bad place to be in this odd covid season after only a few matches.

  4. New Paltz: The Hawks, still reeling from a weakened covid roster, were able to win their first match against Vassar Wednesday. While they lost the 2nd match, the conference win is ultimately more important this season given the unknown nature of at-large selections this year. While they remain in the top 5 of the coaches poll, they are on the outside looking in of the regional rankings, which are much more important.

  5. Dominican: The Stars are 12-1, their only loss coming to fellow Midwest power Benedictine in five, and still have one of the most complete line-ups of every team in the country. I had Dominican as a top 5 program early in the year, and I think they still belong in this realm. I have them entering the NACC tournament as the money favorite.

  6. St. John Fisher: Credit to wear to wear credit is due, SJF pulled out some huge wins over Nazareth and New Paltz this past week to keep them in the top 10. Josh Bigford is starting to find his form after a slow start, averaging a .329 hitting percentage over the programs last three games. They’ll square off against Elmira again Friday, and will play Nazareth again this Tuesday.

  7. Benedictine: The Eagles ran into a red hot Firebirds squad Wednesday, and fell 3-0 to #2 Carthage. The Eagles are currently 1-2 against AVCA ranked teams this season, but their one win is over conference rival Dominican, which is huge for NACC Tournament purposes. Their next game is against Marian on Tuesday, but they will host UC Santa Cruz on April 1st which will be a much see match.

  8. Endicott: Endicott comes off of two wins over upstart ENC, and will most likely remain unbeaten in NECC play for the remainder of the year, I don’t see their strangle hold on the conference loosening anytime soon. They’ll play Elms on Friday and Saturday, but my eyes are on their match with Wentworth next week.

  9. Rutgers-Newark: The Scarlet Raiders started the season high but haven’t been able to overcome their Kean problem. Currently, they are 1-3 against the other New Jersey power program and that does not bode well for their CVC prospects. They will have two matches against Immaculata to get back on track this Saturday.

  10. Juniata: At 10-2, Juniata is sitting stronger than most. They are 1st in their CVC pod, have split with Rutgers, and have only been getting better throughout the year. How they match up with Kean is yet to be determined, but we here at the pond see Juniata and Kean as the two favorites for the CVC Championship.

  11. North Central: The Cardinals win over Benedictine was tempered by a loss to CCIW rival Carthage. The program is very much on the rise, but as of now they sit 3rd in their conference standings behind Carthage and Augustana. I still seem them making their conference finals, but it’s a tall task to dethrone Carthage right now.

  12. Southern Virginia: Oddly enough, Southern Virginia currently sits atop the CVC standings as the lone undefeated team in Pod play across all 3 pods. We most likely won’t see this team get pushed until tournament time.

  13. Lancaster Bible: The Chargers, so far, end their season as the number one ranked team in the East Regional Rankings . They are fresh off a 3-0 sweep over PSU-Altoona, and at this point I do not think they’ll have any more matches until a post-season develops (assuming they get a bid).

  14. Messiah: The Falcons are easily the breakout program of the season and have played their way into the hearts of many in the D3 landscape. Alvernia checked Messiah’s ambitions this week, as they upset the Falcons in MAC conference play for the programs first ever win over a ranked opponent. Messiah is still a favorite to make the conference finals, but the MAC is scrappy, and no one is going to give it to them.

  15. Stevenson: The other MAC favorite, Stevenson was just recently upset by Stevens Institute of Technology in a 3-1 loss. The Mustangs are still 2nd in the MAC, having gone 9-2 in conference play. They currently sit behind Messiah in the standings. The MAC playoff race is becoming clearer, and the difference between the 1 and 2 seed more prominent. Avoiding the 2-3 semifinal is always important come play-offs, but in the MAC the level of play is going to be incredibly even across the 2-4 seeds.

Thoughts Moving Forward…

Kean Rises
Earlier last week I said Kean had the ability to upset Rutgers-Newark in one of their matches. I was a day early in my prediction, but Kean was able to split the first two of their four meetings with the Scarlet Raiders, alone this was a fantastic win for a program which was looking for the signature moment of their season.

Now, Ian Capp and Jake Milnazik have returned to the lineup, and they have done so at a time when the roster was turning the corner. Jared Ray is a top 5 outside in the D3 landscape, and the Cougars have added two seasoned D3 players who have spent the last two years playing against competition far greater than the average D3 team.

Capp and Milnazik make Kean much more dangerous. The difference in ability was very evident in the 3rd and 4th matches between the two New Jersey schools, and if anyone is disagreeing at this point it is largely due to a Kean bias which is almost as prevalent in the D3 landscape as the infamous East Coast Bias. Long story short, Kean is very good, they were good before Ian and Jake were there, and they are good now. They are at the very least a top 10 team, and if you do not prepare for them as such you will get aced off the court (once again for emphasis… they will ace you off the court, and I’ll most likely end up with a million DM’s of the clip recommending it go on the FrogJump Instagram).

The cougars are peaking at the right time and the CVC Tournament becomes much more interesting because of it. For those who don’t know, the CVC was divided into three pods for 2021. The top 2 teams from each pod will advance to the conference tournament, and seeding is based on pod record. If the CVC tournament was held today the seeding would look something like this (I think, don’t hold me to it).

1. SVU
2. Juniata
3. Kean
4. Marymount
5. Rutgers
6. Randolph-Macon

Obviously pod play hasn’t ended yet, but I’d be very happy if I was a Cougar. They have an outside shot of getting the number 2 seed based off the results of the Juniata-Marymount matches, and are essentially locked into hosting their opening round match-ups. Rutgers will very likely move up to the 4th seed. Their path to a CVC Title looks very favorable regardless of seed from my perspective (especially with their continued success over early season CVC favorite Rutgers). The Cougars are a player now, and they can make some noise in April.

Best of the Midwest: Carthage Stands Alone
Carthage is now 14-0, undefeated against AVCA ranked opponents, and sits as the 2nd best team in the country in the eyes of the D3VB landscape. Their 3-0 win over Benedictine has solidified them (in my mind at least) as the Best of the Midwest going into the post-season, and the NCAA has them as 1st in the West Regional Rankings. While I would have loved a possible match-up against Dominican this year, it is safe to say Carthage would be the favorite in that hypothetical given the body of work of both programs.

I commend Coach Kieckheffer and his coaching staff on the job he has done getting the Firebirds to play at this level. I do believe the squad is noticeably different to Carthage squads of years past (I’ve been brutally mocked for having them in my top 5 all year but I’m willing to die on this hill), and see them making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Beasts of the East: New Paltz vs Vassar
I’ve been in the landscape since 2008, and I’ve always loved watching the great rivalries that develop within conferences. New Paltz -vs- Stevens / New Paltz -vs- Nazareth were some of the defining rivalries of the early UVC years and my time at New Paltz. New Paltz -vs- Vassar I believe is becoming the next great conference rivalry based off the last three matches between these teams.

These schools are thirty minutes away from each other, they have incredibly different team cultures, and they are both top 5 programs. Even more striking, they both play a very similar style of volleyball. It was rather shocking to see the similarities up close after all the different Vassar squads I’ve seen in my association with D3VB and New Paltz. The serving mentality, the aggression, both alike and dissimilar to New Paltz.

The Hawks got the conference win in the morning, and Vassar responded with a 3-0 sweep in the afternoon. I intend to have a full write up of these matches done by this weekend so I won’t delve to deeply here, but these programs are positioning themselves to be the prominent centers of power within the UVC for the next few years. New Paltz has established themselves as the landscape foil to Springfield the last few years, but Vassar is ready to make this duo of monsters a trio.

Condensed Season Takes its Toll
I have talked about this a few times this year, but it’s becoming even more evident as we get to April. The Midwest schools (NACC, MCVL, CCIW) have been playing for a little more than two months, the MAC and the CVC just a little less. Many other East Coast programs have been playing for about three weeks. These programs are attempting to sprint into end of season form with shortened preseasons, line-up issues, and packed schedules.

The effect of this has been very clear to anyone paying attention to some of the “Beasts of the East” matches, where we saw top teams go after each other in their opening games to begin the season (Springfield, New Paltz, Endicott, SJF, Vassar, etc.…).

I’ve talked with coaches across the landscape about this exact issue, and they share a common narrative. The tops teams are taught and train to play “powerful volleyball”. They emphasize hard jump serves, increased first ball side-out efficiency, and aggressive play. The only problem is this type of ball requires a level of conditioning beyond what some of these programs have had the time to prepare for. The polished play is still a bit away, but the regular season ends in two weeks. Some programs don’t even know what their best line-ups are, or have even had their best line-ups available to play.  

This condensed season is a huge hurdle for programs everywhere, and it’s not solely relegated to the top teams. Many programs are trying to fill rosters with beat up athletes from the condensed schedules, or they are dealing with absent players due to covid infections. The programs who have had longer seasons are better positioned once post-season tournament begins. It is one of the reasons I am high on Carthage this year, it’s one of the reasons why I think the NACC and MAC will have better quality tournaments, the extra time matters.

FrogJump Store
I’ve gotten quite a few messages regarding FrogJump merchandise the last few weeks, and I’m deeply humbled by the requests! FrogJump did an online store a year ago when we first came into existence, so we will be opening another limited time store soon.

FrogJump, as a brand, is devoted to growing the game of men’s volleyball alongside the coverage of D3VB. Staying true to our mission, our share of the profit will be donated to organizations helping to grow boys volleyball at the grass roots level. I will have a formal announcement later when the details are finalized. So, stay tuned!

 As always, I leave every D3VB review with my current top 5. Until next time D3VB!

  1. Springfield
  2. Carthage
  3. Vassar
  4. New Paltz
  5. Dominican