Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the final D3VB review of 2021, brought to you by FrogJump Volleyball contributors Ramius Pruiss, Bradley Schneider and Harvey Pepperjack. 2021 was a crazy year, but hats off to the Carthage Firebirds for earning their first National Championship in program history. Will Carthage repeat? Will COVID affect D3 volleyball in 2022? Will there be more Midwest bounces or east coast houses? We here at FrogJump took the final AVCA poll of the 2021 season and assess the future of these programs.
Final Coaches Poll
- Carthage: For the first time in D3 History, the NCAA Championship is claimed by a Midwest Program! Anyone who has read the website this year knows that we here at the Pond had Carthage as one of the top 5 teams in the country for the majority of the season, and for good reason.
Slivinski was very likely the best OH in D3 this year, Gene McNulty was the newcomer of the year, Carter Schmidt is turning the corner, and Zach Bulthuis ascended to become a top tier middle. Slivinski, McNulty, Bulthuis, Cohan, and Schmidt are all slated to return next year (5 of their starting 7). I (Ramius) had New Paltz as a heavy Championship favorite last year based on those same circumstances, and after this historic season I have Carthage favored as well. The Firebirds stand on top of the Mountain at the end of this season, and have the biggest target on their back going into 2022. While their contributions on the floor may not have been the biggest, replacing Bryce Thomas and Blake Arnold as culture setters will be essential, from both a training and on court standpoint.
- Benedictine: What a season the Eagles had. I (Ramius) slept on this team fairly early (website receipts prove it), and their early season 5-set win over Dominican was the first indicator of their success to come. Time and again, Benedictine proved themselves to be a meat grinder (credit Harvey for this comparison). This team lived in the transition phase of Volleyball games. They kept the ball in play, denied opposing offenses easy swings, and most importantly played with heart.
I (Ramius) can confirm from my sources that Benedictine was the last at-large team selected for the tournament, and they made the most of this opportunity. They had the toughest first round matchup in Endicott, and followed this up by sweeping Lancaster Bible and upsetting Southern Virginia who by all accounts had one of the most creative/dynamic offenses in D3 this year. They proved they belonged on the national stage, and pushed Carthage to the brink when no other team could.
We call him Lionheart Legros here at the pond (credit Harvey for the nickname), and the name says it all. That next chapter will not include LeGros or the heartbeat of the team, Thomas Samaras- but there is a chance both of their replacements were on the floor getting valuable reps. Tim Folliard who played as the M2 was LeGros’ back up setter and Kyle Vasquez saw significant time as a defensive specialist. With those slots filled and all other starters returning, lead by Chase Olson (All-Tournament team selection and maybe the best offensive middle in the country) and Jacob Grygo- the Eagles will be back in the mix.
- Dominican: Dominican is good. It’s that simple. We at the pond are aware of East Coast Bias, I know I (Ramius) was incredibly guilty of this for the longest time, but when you watch enough Volleyball in life you start to realize what actually matters… and what matters is blocking a ball so hard the ball bounces to the ceiling. In all seriousness, Dominican displayed the talent of a top five team early this year, and the only two teams they lost to just played in the NCAA Championship (Benedictine and Carthage).
Jack McGuire has been confirmed to be returning to the Stars next year alongside Cowan, Molloy, and Kougan. That’s (like Carthage) 4/7 of a corps that just played their way to the Final Four after sweeping Benedictine (conference championship) and Vassar. Bregin DeMarco will leave big shoes to be filled at the libero position, but Danny Pacini gained invaluable reps as DS and will likely slide right into that spot. Troy Kates opened a lot of eyes in the tournament with his blocking ability but Dominican has some good size on the bench and George Kougan’s incoming younger brother should also be competing for the M2 spot. The Stars are good, and they will be good next year as well.
- Southern Virginia: The CVC is one of the power conferences of D3VB, and SVU was able to cement their status in the Landscape by being the first program to repeat as CVC Champions. Heading into 2022, the Knights will retain their explosive 3-time first team All-American Nahuel Recabarren, who led SVU offensively all season. We haven’t been able to confirm any news regarding senior setter Kaipo Tagaloa and OH Mark Stapley, so we assume they are putting on the cap and gown this May.
Alongside Recabarren, SVU also returns libero Jothan Castillo alongside Opposite Samuel Candland and Middle McKay Walker. These three put on impressive performances throughout the season, and as a corps are a great starting point for Tom Peterson who remains one of the best coaches in the D3VB landscape. SVU is in a good spot to contend next year for the CVC, but they will be challenged for supremacy by several teams on this list.
- Vassar: Based on a shortened covid season and a mad dash to the NCAA tournament, I’d be incredibly happy if I was Richard Gary. The Vassar program has young, elite, battle hardened talent. I challenge any program in the country to come into a round robin UVC only schedule and finish with a positive positive record. Further, do that and win the conference championship against a team who not only has beaten you twice during the regular season but was also the reigning UVC/NCAA Champion.
Vassar is loaded, and they are easily one of the top Five teams in the country going into next year talent wise. Andrew Kim could easily have been a dark horse player of the year candidate if Vassar played more matches, Gavin Van Beveren is still Gavin Van Beveren, and Colin Jones took the division by storm with his breakout play. This Vassar squad is primed to contend for the UVC Championship for the next few years, and if you can win the UVC you can win the NCAA Championship.
- Springfield: Like New Paltz, Springfield is another elite team whose season was ended with a heartbreaking loss (Wentworth). I won’t mince words, a Pride squad with Brandow, York, and Anderson as your pins is an elite level squad regardless of what else the roster looks like.
We don’t have a lot of information on the Pride right now, but from what we do know next season should be par for the course for Springfield. Alex Work looks to be solidifying the libero position with a departing Mussa Robles, and Nate Reynolds is slated to be in Springfield for one more year. The Pride were a top 5 team in 2021, and they will be again in 2022. Covid shenanigans pending, Springfield is on the short list of contenders for next year’s NCAA Championship.
- SUNY New Paltz: New Paltz finished their season with a heartbreaking loss to Vassar in the UVC championship, thus leaving them out of the NCAA tournament. It is without a doubt that COVID hit New Paltz hard in 2021, as their early season shorthanded roster led to two losses against St. John Fisher. New Paltz graduates an incredibly talented senior class, including All Americans Matt Grace and Nick O’Malley, 2019 NCAA MVP Aaron Carrk and All-UVC stud libero Rob Nolan. These four guys will be very difficult to replace, but New Paltz is known for deep, talented rosters.
Outside hitters Brendan Spulnick and Chris Shanley along with breakout candidate MB Pat Wing are likely to be the star offensive weapons for NP in 2022. With coach Radu Petrus’ heavy opposite mentality, I (Bradley) would not be surprised to see Spulnick move to Opposite, while AJ Fitzgerald or Dan LaRosa step into the OH2 role. Lewis transfer Kyle Shaffer is the top candidate to fill the shoes of Matt Grace in the setter position. Even though we will see many new faces in the starting roster for the Hawks, this group is very talented, hungry to win a ring and without a doubt able to compete with the best teams in the country.
- Messiah: Anyone who knows the history of Messiah Athletics or their Men’s team as a club program knew this season was coming. A perennial contender for the National Title in a myriad of sports, I (Harvey) think the only surprise is how quickly Coach Beachy was able to orchestrate their burst onto the national stage. An intentional culture-build meshed with high volleyball IQ, Messiah has constructed a distinct identity for their program based on a speedy offense and tenacious commitment to keeping the ball off the floor.
The Falcons will lose 4 to graduation, headlined by First Team All-American Matt Knab and OH 2 Ian Parzyszek, both incredibly important pieces. But they retain National Player of the Year Mason Nissley and fellow All-American Nate Bowman. Their incoming freshman class is absolutely loaded, with 4 players from Yorktowne 18-1s (traditionally one of the East Coast strongest teams). If Messiah can find the appropriate replacement for Knab, there is a chance that this group will be even better next year.
- Wentworth: What a special year for the Leopards. After the GNAC announcement, their season was hanging in the balance, luckily for the folks of Wentworth: they held strong and made a season happen. A limited schedule that featured Lassell six times (I guess you could say they were laser focused on playing them). WIT got a huge win over Endicott but then had their final match of the season canceled because of COVID, or so they thought. They scheduled a contingency match against the Springfield Pride after LBC had a positive of their own, and well you know…. The rest is history.
Coach Giglio will lose a lot of on floor talent and leadership, it is unlikely that First Team All-American libero Peter Klembczyk returns and I can confirm Ryan Love (2nd Team AA),Ryan Engel, and David Marsh will not be returning as well as. Honorable Mention All-American Anthony Kryzkowki will be back along with freshman outside Jacob “SlenderBoy” Labouille” who will take big strides in 2022. Maybe most importantly, the Boston Boys will return some depth with 5 players coming back after disciplinary action knocked them out from competitions in 2021- headlined by Hunter Oshman on the right side. The returning pieces should be enough to keep the Leopards the kings of the GNAC Jungle.
- Endicott: The Gulls exited the tournament this year after falling in straight sets to the Benedictine Eagles. The Gulls have had an iron grip on the NECC Conference for as long as I’ve been around, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. This team was talented enough to make the finals this year (Ramius’ opinion), and simply fell victim to the meat grinder that was the Benedictine style of play.
Gabe Felicetti is set to return for a 5th year next year, meaning no ten foot line in the Northeast is safe. He’ll be leading the next generation of Gulls as Ian Smith, Will Perry, and Nik Kasprzak will be looked at to fulfill bigger roles on the court. Endicott is still good, and they will be back in the NCAA tournament next year barring any earth shattering developments within the NECC.
- Juniata: I’m not sure if Head Coach Glenn DeHaven would categorize this season as a success, failure, disappointment, etc. They hovered in and around the Top 10 all year, splitting with a Rutgers-Newark team early in the year when they were fresh. Had a bad loss to Elizabethtown that ruled them out of at-large contention. Played one of the best matches of the year hitting .440 in a 5 set win over Kean in CVC semi-finals Then they ran into a red hot, experienced SVU team that knocked them out in the CVC final.
Coach DeHaven should be encouraged looking into 2022, returning 6 of 7 starters as well as some healthy bodies returning to the gym (looking at you Austin Goodsel). With Kevin Duffy leading the way and Will Phelan emerging at the year’s end- there will be no shortage of firepower on the floor for Juniata. Reese Ganter has a year of experience under his belt and there are plenty of other setters on the roster to provide him with competition and prevent complacency. I expect Juniata back in the CVC Final in 2022.
- Lancaster Bible: The Chargers season came to an end this season at the hands of Benedictine (like so many other teams). The Chargers are a solid squad and teams should make sure to bring their A-game when they meet them on the court (just ask Kean). We haven’t gotten word whether any of the seniors will be returning for a fifth year, and if not the Chargers will need to replace the production of Kyran Flahive (OP) and Kole Horst (OH).
- St. John Fisher: The Covid season did no team any favors this year, doubly so for the Cardinals of St. John Fisher. I think it was fair to say the program had high hopes this year, but the UVC shark tank had other plans. Their seasons high point occurred when they shocked the world with two 5-set wins over #1 New Paltz without starting setter Paul Hackford. These matches alone through the UVC into chaos, as they virtually guaranteed only one UVC team would make the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals would sadly be eliminated in a 5-set loss against eventual champion Vassar in the UVC Semifinal, and their season came to an end.
SJF was without Josh Bigford in their UVC Semifinal match, and who’s to say what his impact would have been. The moral of the story is that in five short years SJF has ascended from a new program to a nationally recognized power. Bigford and Baker are still a great pair of pins, and Noah Prickett All-Star Ivan Lopez has upped his game tremendously based on his play this year. We can confirm star libero David Cerqua will be returning for a 5th year, but we have heard nothing about Hackford. Moving Forward, SJF’s ceiling will likely hit the top ten for the next few years within the greater D3VB landscape, which is a remarkable place to be given their programs youth.
- Fontbonne: What a year for the Griffins. Fontbonne gets a lot of flack for playing in the MCVL, but the Griffins are a talented squad capable of hanging with many of the East Coast teams (beating them as well). Further, Lively has quickly established himself to be one of the premier OH talents in D3VB. He and Cameron Graves are a dynamic 1,2 punch on the pins always seconds away from posterizing someone on the FrogJump Highlight reels. Fontbonne stock is rising high today, as I can confirm starters Braden Woolsey (MB) and Kyler van Rossum-O’Connell (S) are returning for a 5th year. The program will miss Zac Rothstein (L) anchoring serve-receive, but a squad of Graves, Lively, Woolsey, and O’Connell is a great place to start.
I (Ramius) guarantee few people on the East Coast thought Fontbonne would fight with Messiah as evenly as they did (this might be hyperbole but I stand by it). The two teams were incredibly even talent wise, and it was easily the hardest match of the opening rounds to predict because of it. This should have the Griffins motivated, because as things stand they are the favorites to win the MCVL again next year and make the tournament (sorry Mt. Union). They will be a tough out for any program next year, sleep on them at your own peril.
- Kean: What a strange year for the Cougars. Obstacles from the NCAA, COVID, and everything in between. When they had their full complement of players, there were few programs in the country with as much talent. They lost a nail-biting 5-set match to Juniata in the CVC Semifinal which concluded the collegiate careers of All-Americans Ian Capp and Jake Milnazik.
This group graduates a ton of talent (headlined by Capp and Milnazik) but will be returning First Team All-American Jared Ray, As long as the serve receive doesn’t fully collapse and they have someone capable of feeding Ray this team will remain around the national discussion (if not always in it).
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Feature Image credited to Mike Tripp, Sideline Sports!