Pond Talk: Underdogs Make Noise

Another week, another pond talk! Let’s dive in.

  1. Arcadia and Stevenson split their double header this weekend. How does this result affect your opinion of the MAC Championship picture?

Harvey: Doesn’t affect my opinion very much at all. I still have Messiah at the top of my MAC rankings- as I have for most of this year. If anything, Stevens recent hot streak (3-0) this week has allowed them to re-enter this picture as a contender for conference title. No result in the MAC for the Top 5 teams will surprise me at this point

Bradley: Last pond talk, I predicted Stevenson to be the champions of the MAC this year. While I still believe this is a possibility (and this still remains my prediction), the losses this past week against Stevens and Arcadia does worry me. This is a bad time to get into a rut and it looks like Arcadia, Messiah and Stevens are playing some of their best volleyball this season. Don’t count out Stevenson just yet — my guess is these losses will be beneficial for them.

Ramius: I had Arcadia as a Dark Horse candidate for the MAC championship last week (I love being right), and they moved further into my consciousness as a true contender for the title. Stevenson and Messiah remain the landscape consensus picks for the Championship, but I think Arcadia moves into the conversation on equal footing with both of them. Quinn Baily is their version of Logan Smiley/Mason Nissley, and the team rises as he does. Definitely based on recency bias (especially given their loss to Stevenson in the night cap), but I still have Stevenson as the money favorite for the championship, with Messiah and Arcadia as equals in betting odds.

  1. Based on their matches this weekend, is Nazareth overrated, underrated, or properly rated? Same question for Vassar. 

Harvey: Very difficult for me to pass judgements on these UVC teams. After minimal or no training this fall and then a late start to their seasons in 2021- many of these teams are still working to find a groove with pieces of lineup and who fits together well, along with getting into playing shape. Back to back 5 set matches after taking nearly is pretty taking and demanding on the body. 

Bradley: Since the beginning of the season, I have been higher on Nazareth than others. Therefore, in my opinion, Naz is underrated (compared to coaches poll). They have now split matches with St. John Fisher and Vassar, which are great wins for the resume. Vassar is right where they should be, competing at the highest level and ranked at a high level as well. At this point, nobody can guess what the UVC playoff rankings will be, but I definitely still have New Paltz coming out on top.

Ramius: Nazareth might be the most athletic team in the UVC, and they are playing on equal footing with the best teams in the country. Everyone had their victory over SJF as a bad loss for Fisher early in the season, but I did say it was likely time would reveal Nazareth to be the real deal (check the receipts).

For the question, Nazareth is definitely underrated. They won’t be anymore, as they have the pieces to hang and bang with the top teams in the country as demonstrated in their matches against SJF and Vassar. A resurgent Nazareth highlights the normal strength of the UVC, as a regular season would see this team square off not only with the heavyweights that played this year but also MIT and NYU who opted out. The UVC, program wise, remains incredibly deep. Nazareth was definitely not on anyone’s radar to upset Vassar this weekend (maybe Bradley’s), but they definitely were not expected to do it twice. Those who were able to catch the matches know Nazareth was more than capable of closing out the first match too, and a win over Vassar shows the UVC race is wide open.

For Vassar, I think the team is “properly rated”. They are a strong squad, they have elite talent headlined by Andrew Kim and Gavin Van Beverin, and they rip from the line which is what I like to see. Remember, these teams just started playing two weeks ago, and they are still trying to get into mid-season shape. I think a polished version of Vassar is still one of the top 5 teams in the country, and nothing to date has changed that opinion.

  1. We’re quickly approaching the final phases of the regular season, what team(s) have impressed you in the final stretch? Why?

Harvey: I mentioned it in question one, but Stevens Tech is really hitting their stride right now. They have won 7 straight after opening their season losing 3 of their first four with players coming in and out of line-up. They have a big week ahead with the Stevenson rematch and a Saturday showdown with Arcadia to close out the regular season. 

Bradley: If I were to pick 2 teams that have impressed me the most over the last week, I would choose Kean and Nazareth. Kean went 6-1 in sets against a very solid Rutgers team this past week. Ian Capp makes Kean significantly better. Nazareth came into this year with little to no playoff hopes and just split matches with #3 Vassar, in which both matches went 5 sets and could have gone either way. I do not expect Nazareth to make it to the UVC finals, but nevertheless they have still impressed me.

Ramius: I think Kean hands down has made the biggest jump as the regular season comes to a close. Rutgers-Newark was a consensus top 5 team since last year (and has everyone that made them such from last year). Kean split their first two matches with them without Capp and Milnazik and has beaten them two more times since. They enter the CVC Championship as the favorite in my eyes as Milnazik and Capp elevate them to another level, and Jared Ray is still one of the top outsides in the country. 

  1. Which conference tournament are you most excited for this season?

Harvey: The UVC is definitely the most interesting conference tournament this postseason, for a wide variety of factors. The round robin schedule these teams are playing is a murderers row of opponents, and as of this weekend no team is undefeated. Four of the five teams are national powers, three of those four have top 5 talent.

New Paltz is the reigning national champion and has eyes on it’s third, Vassar has multiple final four appearances and boasts one of the years breakout players Andrew Kim, and St. John Fisher shocked the world with two 5-set wins over New Paltz; now we have Nazareth, splitting with Vassar in two 5-set matches and they are the top ranked regional team in the UVC!? The drama is palpable, even more so because only one of these teams will get into the tournament. New Paltz isn’t even in the regional rankings and they are consistently considered one of the best teams in the country. 

Simply put, the match volume hasn’t been there for these teams to jump ahead of any of the East Region programs. It’s growing increasingly clear that it’s a conference title or bust for everyone. In a normal year winning the UVC is always a good sign for an NCAA dance, but even more so this year when you knock out three other opponents capable of deep runs themselves.

Bradley: I believe the UVC tournament will be the most exciting conference tournament of all. With no undefeated teams remaining, it seems as if this tournament bracket will be difficult to predict. In addition, I see the UVC as the best conference in the country. Who doesn’t love watching the best D3 conference in the country going at it for a trip to the dance? Sign me up.

Ramius: I’m really excited for both the CVC and the NACC. Simply put, the Midwest teams have played the most “regular” season to date and the CVC has a three-headed monster in Juniata-Rutgers-Kean with SVU as my interesting Darkhorse. In any normal year, I would normally pick the UVC as it historically has been a shark tank, but the UVC teams are just not playing quality level ball right now.

The NACC tournament will feature the top 6 teams of the conference, and as of now we have Benedictine, Dominican, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Marian locked in and Aurora and Concordia Wisconsin favored for the last two playoff spots. While Dominican and Benedictine are the odds favorites to meet in the championship, MSOE and Aurora are not easy outs, and I would not be surprised if a shock occurred in either semi-final match.

For the CVC, Kean’s resurgence disrupted the balance of power which existed after their loss to Lancaster Bible. Southern Virginia has flown under the landscapes radar all season as their matches with Juniata got canceled, and Juniata while talented is incredibly young with three freshmen in the rotation. I think the championship can be won by any of those four teams, despite Kean coming in with the momentum.

  1. Now that we are approaching the endgame, what players do you see in contention as Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year?

Harvey: Dark Horse for me, Kevin Duffy. As of this moment he’s the National leader in blocks per set and has been an absolute animal. As a middle he’s in the top 10 (number 8) in kills/set within the CVC. That’s obscene in a conference notable for having high use pin hitters like Nahuel Reccabbaren, Jared Ray, Andrew Zaleck, etc. He’s keeping up with those names as a three rotation player and to date has been the best performing middle in the country (yes, even better than the go to names of Nick O’Malley and Gavin Van Beverin). It’s incredibly hard for a middle to earn this award, but Kevin Duffy’s name has to be in contention.

For Newcomer of the Year, has to be Ryan Lively from Fontbonne. He’s the go to hitter that instantly opened up the Fontbonne offense, taking the pressure off of Woosley and Graves. Fontbonne gets a lot of flack for playing in the MCVL, but Lively makes them dangerous.

Bradley: This is very difficult to predict as the amount of matches played will be a key contributor to the POY and NOY awards. I see the clear POY frontrunner being Matt Slivinski (Carthage), with Mason Nissley (Messiah), Logan Smiley (Stevenson), George Kougan (Dominican), Jared Ray (Kean) and Andrew Zaleck (Rutgers) following behind. Some other names such as Andrew Kim (Vassar) and Brennen Brandow (Springfield) are less likely due to volume. Possible Newcomer of the Year frontrunners include Gene McNulty (Carthage) and Owen Wickens (Nazareth). 

Ramius: I think Slivinski has the best resume for the award this year, due to both volume and level of play. He’s a sure 1st team All-American selection and the go to guy on a team that has dropped 1 set all year (to Aurora) and sits at 16-0. Based on level of play, I think Mason Nissley is the runner up at this moment, but Andrew Kim could also have an outside shot if Vassar had more matches on their resume. 

For Newcomer of the Year, the only two candidates that make sense to me right now are Gene McNulty of Carthage (Setter) and Ryan Lively of Fontbonne (Outside). I think McNulty has the edge at the moment and would be my selection since he’s a true Freshmen (Lively being a sophomore transfer from Purdue-Fort Wayne). He’s averaging 11.17 assists/set on the 2nd best team in the country (some might say best), and has Carthage hitting at .351 for the year (3rd best in country). 

  1. As always, who is your current top 5?

Harvey: Springfield – Carthage – Kean – Dominican – TBD

Bradley: Springfield – Carthage – New Paltz – Vassar – Kean

Ramius: Springfield – Carthage – Vassar – New Paltz –  Dominican

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