Pepperjack’s Setter: Slice by Slice

One of the most common misconceptions about Mary Shelley’s literary classic, “Frankenstein” has to do with its titular character. The title was chosen on the last name of the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein- not the monster, who should be known as Frankenstein’s monster (not Frankenstein himself).

Today we set out to create Pepperjack’s setter (not Pepperjack himself) by creating the most dominant setter possible. We will pick and choose 10 different characteristics of an elite setter from different setters around the country from the 2021 season, with the only caveat being- each setter can only be used for one attribute. So let’s go slice by slice and build our setter.

Size – Jack McGuire – Domincan

Jack McGuire – Photo provided by Dominican Athletics

A four year starter for the stars- Jack McGuire is listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 185 pounds. I think it is about time for the Dominican SID to update his profile. I think Jack is closer 6’6 than 6’4 and he has a solid frame which I would guess is close to a muscular 200 lbs.

Jack was arguably the best blocking setter in the country (more on this in a bit) and a huge piece of the Stars leading the NCAA in Blocks/Set. More importantly, McGuire uses every inch of his height and wingspan when running the offense, contacting at a super high point allowing Dominican to stay in system and have his hitters rely on his excellent consistency.

Also Considered: Jacob Kim (Vassar) Paul Hackford (SJFC)

Heart – Mike LeGros – Benedictine

Mike Legros: Photo Provided by Benedictine Athletics

A first year starter for the Eagles- Mike LeGros was one of the best stories not only of the NCAA Tournament, but the entire country. LeGros was the heart and soul (along with Tommy Samaras) of the National Runner-Ups. After dropping the NACC Final to Dominican, LeGros and Co. (trademark pending) thought their season was over until they received the last bid into the tournament.

From that point on- he and his teammates had made the decision to play every point like their last. They lived up to their promise- pulling upset after upset, winning 3 matches in 3 straight days, pushing undefeated & eventual National Champions Carthage to 5 sets (doubling their total set losses for the year). LeGros made every play possible, almost recording a triple-double in the national final (9 Kills 8 Digs 46 Assists). Lionheart LeGros deserved his storybook ending to this season, and I would love to see him suit up for another season.

Also Considered: Nobody. It was always the Lionheart.

Right Arm – Matt Nealon – North Central

One of the nation’s most underrated setters, Nealon has an absolute cannon. Although he was my second choice for this role (more on this in a bit), Nealon is no slouch. His five ace performance in the opening match against Aurora was a sign of things to come. Nealon displayed a solid arm from the line all season, as he had an ace in 9 of his 12 matches this year including 4 matches of at least 4 aces. Nealon followed this up by doing some nice work as an attackers for the Cardinals, occasionally opening up for a swing on that right arm.

Also Considered: Ian Capp (Kean)

Left Arm – Grant Nelson – Stevenson

Nelson was a gift for the Mustangs, who have had a ton of success with transfer setters, see Christian Taylor (newly minted Randolph Macon Head Coach). The California Lutheran transfer, settled into the Mustangs program well conducting an offense that led the nation in kills/set.

In addition to conducting the offense, Nelson had no hesitation in calling his own number, and torching some balls on 2nd contact as natural lefty. Bonus, Grant has a very effective float serve which will give our setter a nice fire/ice combo with our big jump serve on the right arm.

Also Considered: Mike LeGros (Benedictine) Anthony Devantier (Arcadia) Louden Moran (Stevens)

Strength – Kaipo Tagaloa – Southern Virginia

Kaipo Tagaloa – NCAA Semifinal vs Benedictine

A man amongst boys (literally and figuratively) Tagaloa is somehow stronger than he looks (which is crazy strong). When I heard rugby was his primary sport and true love, it made more sense. Tagaloa showcases his strength in every area on the court: from the service line, at the net, and distributing the Knights’ offense.

Most impressively, you can see that strength on display as a blocker from Tagaloa as Head Coach Tom Peterson often moves Kaipo around, having him block from the middle and outside, where you will see him stuff players with a huge size advantage using his strength and lower center of gravity.

Also Considered: Nobody. There is only one grown man setting in DIII Volleyball. That is Kaipo.

Athleticism – Matt Knab – Messiah

Matt Knab: Photo Provided by Messiah Athletics

A supreme athlete in every sense of the word, Knab is the man that makes the Falcons go (even if teammate Mason Nissley gets most of the headlines). Knab brings every attribute you could look for: Lateral Quickness, Vertical Explosiveness, Catlike Reactions, etc. Knab leverages these skills not only as a setter, but also a server, blocker, defender, and occasionally an attacker.

To fully appreciate Knab’s athleticism, I think it is important to understand his story. Recruited by Head Coach Justin Beachy to be a setter from Western PA, Knab spent his first two years as the OH1 at an All-Conference level before returning to the setting position in his junior year and then named a first team All-American as a a senior during the Falcons breakout season. Knab will look to build on his legacy during his 5th year as he returns to conduct the Falcons offense at least one more time.

Also Considered: Paul Hackford (SJFC)

Hands – Ian Capp – Kean

To be completely transparent, if I removed the one per trait limit, I think Capp would probably be my choice in 3 or 4 categories. The two that stand out the most to me are Ian’s right arm and his hands. Ian was arguably the best server in the country, not even filtering to just setters. I don’t think there is an argument at all.

Despite his prolific serving and attacking, Capp’s hands are just too enticing with his ability to impact nearly every point with his setting ability. Having the utmost confidence in himself and his mittens, Ian is ready and willing to make any set from anywhere on the floor. He can absolutely chuck the ball over the floor, regardless of distance or spacing.

Even more impressively, Ian will contort his body into a number of untraditional shapes, deceiving the block with his posture (or lack there of) and then moving the ball all over the floor in tempo with the combination of brute strength and delicate touch with his hands.

Also Considered: Nobody. Have you watched this guy set? Come on now.

Feet – Justin Tuohy – Rutgers-Newark

Justin Tuohy – Photo Credit Rutgers Athletics

Leading the charge for RNU’s breakout season back in 2020, some might say that Tuohy had a “sophomore slump”. Rutgers was dealing with very strict COVID protocols and only had nine (9!) athletes for the season after opt-outs. They had a starting line-up with a back-up libero and back-up setter. However Head Coach Jack Wilson was conducting practices, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall. Tuohy didn’t take a step back in my mind, just had his team hit a wall later in the season. Tuohy still ran the Scarlet Raider offense with admirable efficiency.

Tuohy is quick as a cat, constantly getting his feet to the ball and contacting the ball at a consistent height which allows his hitters to stay in both tempo and rhythm. He has developed great chemistry with each weapon on the Rutgers squad. Further, Tuohy’s play is always just so… crisp. I would look for him and the Scarlet Raiders to have a big bounce back in 2022 with more depth and training time.

Also Considered: Matt Grace (New Paltz) Jack McGure (Dominican) Alec Helford (Hunter)

Head – Matt Grace – SUNY New Paltz

Matt Grace – Photo Credit New Paltz Athletics

One of the most decorated setters in Division III history, Grace’s inclusion on this list will surprise nobody- the only controversy was where to slot him in. To be completely frank, I wasn’t overly impressed with Grace’s decision making during the 2021 season, but it is hard to evaluate on this year alone- especially considering his track record.

A national finalist in 2017 and National Champion in 2019, Grace constantly putting his hitters in a position to succeed, whether it is match-up based, hot hand theory, or isolating blockers on an island. Most impressively, Grace has more courage and creativity getting his middles involved offensively than any other setter in the country, especially with O’Malley.

A bit of a lifetime achievement award, Grace has consistently played his best ball, late in the season when the calendar turns to April and any coach should feel comfortable with him at the helm.

Also Considered: Kaipo Tagaloa (Southern Virginia) Ian Capp (Kean) Jack McGuire (Dominican)

Poise – Gene McNulty – Carthage

Gene McNulty: Photo provided by Carthage Athletics

All season long, Carthage stayed the course. All you can do is beat the team in front of you, and the Firebirds did so handily. Dropping only one set during the entire regular season, McNulty was a model of consistency for Head Coach JW Kieckhefer. Running the nation’s best and most proficient offense (when considering the combination of Hitting Percentage and Kills/Set), McNulty was exceptional by any standard, especially when you consider he was doing this as a first year.

After Carthage rolled every opponent while advancing to the NCAA Final – I was curious to see how he would respond after they dropped the opening set (and their 2nd set of the year) to Benedictine. He responded well, Carthage was 16-1-28 hititng .536 in Set 2. Similarly, I was interested to see how he adjusted after they lost the 3rd set and were facing the potential of defeat for the first time all season. On queue, he responded well and Carthage hit .311 in Set 4 followed by an astonishing .611 in Set 5 to win the National Championship. Calm, cool, and collected like a cucumber all season long.

Also Considered: Anthony Kryzkowski (Wentworth)


Hopefully you enjoyed following along with the creation of Pepperjack’s setter, slice by slice. If you enjoyed, make sure you share and let Ramius know which position we should do next as part of my summer series, I have some more fun ideas planned!

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