Messiah vs. Fontbonne
Probably my favorite match-up of the first round. These teams are extremely similar. Mason Nissley and Ryan Lively are both electric, sophomore outside hitters who are among the top point scorers in the country. Nate Bowman and and Braeden Woolsey are underrated middles who produces on both sides of the ball as attackers and blockers. Matt Knab and Kyler van-Rossum O’Connell are both senior setters (VROC in his 5th year) who lead their team with an intense competitive spirit. Owen Hanzelman and Zach Rothstein both finished as 2nd Team All-Conference liberos providing their teams with a defensive and serve receive anchors.
The difference for me will be the service pressure Messiah can create. A combination of forcing the Griffins out of system as well as a Knab-Bowman block may slow down Lively a bit and I am not sure Fontbonne will have the same success trying to limit Nissley.
Messiah in 4
Vassar vs. Hiram
I ultimately don’t think this one will be very competitive. Awesome for Hiram to have qualified for this tournament. Their seniors are a group who started this program and built a culture since their inaugural season in 2018. Even with AMCC Player of Year Tom Supan and fellow All-Conference selection Kilvio Montero- I am not sure the Terriers have the firepower to hang with Vassar. Look to see contributions from a number of different Brewers in this match, just so things don’t get stale ale (shout out Vassar alumni).
Vassar in 4
Wentworth vs. NJCU
Two of the tournaments most surprising participants square off for a berth in the Elite 8. This match-up will feature a lot of size and athleticism. Wentworth sports the national leader in Blocks/Set in MB David Marsh, who had 11 stuffs in their upset over Springfield. NJCU brings two All-Skyline MBs to the table in Martin Chromulak and Brandon DaSilva, the latter of whom was 2020s runner up in blocks/set. Ryan Love and Jonathan Andrews have also had similar lines at times this year with Love having a bit more consistency.
The distinguishing difference in this one for me is Leopard freshman setter Anthony Kryzkowski. Anthony has filled this role excellently for a young freshman and is constantly creating advantageous situations for his hitters to succeed, but most importantly has gotten better each time that I have watch him. He may be shaking a few nerves early on this stage, but will settle in nicely. Wentworth in 3
Benedictine vs. Endicott
The second most intriguing match of this first round, has a classic battle of East vs. West. Endicott and Head Coach George Chappell are as familiar with the NCAA Tournament as any program, qualifying for their 7th NCAA Tournament in 2021. Benedictine and Head Coach Christian Staple are on the other end of the spectrum, qualifying for their 1st NCAA Tournament in program history in Staple’s first season with the program.
While I think Benedictine will have the two best student-athletes on the floor in Jacob Grygo and Chase Olson- Endicott’s service pressure will tell the story of this match. I think they will make life hard on the Eagles high flying offense while utilizing Gabe Felicetti in a variety of ways on offense and defense to create points of their own. That combined with the pace of their in system offense will make life tough on some of Benedictine’s undersized blockers in a close match
Endicott in 5
Carthage vs. Messiah
The common phrase goes as follows “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” I don’t think that phrase applies here. I would prefer “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unstoppable force?”. Potentially watching Mason Nissley and and Matt Slivinski go head to head will answer that question. An explosion of physicality and firepower is what we can expect. HBO may even show up to film it as Part II of Godzilla vs. Kong.
I think the difference in this one will be Zach Bulthius. Messiah struggled with Brian Rea’s elite size and blocking ability in their matches with Alvernia this year. Bulthius has that in spades. I expect him to ignite the Firebirds and lead them to their first Final Four since 2012.
Carthage in 4
Dominican vs. Vassar
A clash of the titans. A showdown of biblical proportions. It really is a shame this match-up is happening in the Elite 8. I will begin by saying this: I expect this matchup to be played at a Final 4/National Championship level. Vassar is both one of the country’s most disciplined and scrappy teams and has a multitude of offensive weapons. Andrew Kim has been a reliable stud all year, Gavin van Beveren looks to finally be settling on the right and Collin Jones has certainly emerged as terminal attacker in the middle. Dominican has a number of their own elite point scorers; led by George Kougan, flanked by Trey Cowan, and a great tandem of middles in Mat Molloy and Troy Kates.
I would give Vassar a slight advantage in the serve/pass game, but think Domincan controls the net in this one, especially if their options to slowdown Kim with both Kougan and setter Jack McGuire. At the end of the day the difference will be experience and McGuire has plenty, He will be able to lean on that against either of the Brewers phenomenal freshman setters and shoot the stars out into the stratosphere.
Southern Virginia vs. Wentworth
I think it fair to say these are two teams that have been slept on during this season. While SVU has been in the Top 15, many didn’t believe they would make it to this point (including all three contributors on this site). But with their senior laden squad they proved us wrong. Nahuel Recabarren continues his run as one of DIII’s most dynamic attackers- being utilized all over the court and producing his best performances in the matches that matter most. Joined on the pins by Mark Stapley and Sam Candland, Kaipo Tagaloa has run a balanced offense all year that ranks 5th in attack percentage. Wentworth will attempt to slow them down with the stellar play of libero Peter Klembczyk.
I expect this match to be the coming out party for freshman Jacob Labouille. While SVU Head Coach Tom Peterson moves Tagaloa around well to hide him as a blocker. I expect the Leopards to expose it through the versatility of Labouille and graduate student Ryan Engel propelling them back to the Final Four just like in 2017 in a 5 setter.
Wentworth in 5
Lancaster Bible vs. Endicott
It’s fair to say that Lancaster Bible is the biggest question mark of the tournament. They played their last match on March 20th. To put that in perspective, Vassar began their season on March 21st and this match will be played on April 22nd. I would anticipate either a blazing hot or sluggish start for the Chargers (but nothing in between) with a return to the mean during Set 2. Endicott has been at this stage before, bowing out to New Paltz in a heartbreaker back in 2019. Felicetti, Justin Kegebein, and Bryn Lipton will have that fresh on their mind and will keep the team dialed in regardless of how this match starts. Ultimately, I expect their serving and athleticism to give Lancaster Bible fits. Endicott in 3.
Carthage vs. Dominican
The gatekeeper match. Who is the best of the Midwest? So many people hold the lack of post-season success against this particular region of the country in the context of Division III volleyball. But there is no questioning the level of play for these two programs during this year. Carthage is undefeated, having dropped only one set to Aurora this year & Dominican has dropped one match and one set (so 4 sets total this year). These teams are in country’s top 5 and in my opinion top 3.
The margin for error is razor thin on both sides and I expect the match come down to the wire. At the end of the day, I expect Dominican to bring a bit more heat from the service line and while Carthage is an excellent out of system attacking team- the Stars block will both earn points and slow down the Firebird offense. But the true ingredient will be Jack McGuire’s ability to orchestrate the offense in transition on those opportunities. Dominican in 5.
Wentworth vs. Endicott
In a rematch from one of this season’s many snow globe shaking upsets. Having watched that match, a few notes.
1) It was one of the poorest officiated matches I have seen in a long time. Not an excuse for Endicott- but a lot of big points ended with a poor call at key times.
2) Topsy Turvy. Endicott hit .300+ in the first two sets and then failed to clear .200 again in the match including a putrid -.094 in a Set 4 drubbing (13-25). Wentworth had similar patterns, hitting .435 in their Set 2 win before dropping to .083 in a Set 3 loss (22-25)
3) Felicetti. Felicetti moved to the right side in Set 5 as the Gulls failed to take full advantage of his offensive capabilities. If they make that move permenant or are able to feature him more in the middle it could be a difference.
The most important thing in my mind, is that Wentworth setter Anthony Kryzkowski has another few matches under his belt since this one, including in upset over Springfield (something not many setters can say, let alone Freshman). I think he continues to show maturity beyond his years stay calm in the moment and lead the Leopards to the National Championship.
Wentworth in 4
Dominican vs. Wentworth
I’ve talked about these two teams at length, so I will keep this short and sweet. I think Dominican will be soaring in riding high on confidence after defeating two of the top contenders for the National Championship. They will come out slow and sluggish, with Wentworth blitzing them hard and stealing Set 1. But over time, their combination of experience and physicality will be too much for the Boston boys. Midwest and the Stars finish on top.
Dominican in 4.