The Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) announced the addition of men’s volleyball as a sponsored sport in 2018 with the first “year” of competition being the ill-fated 2020 season. This finally gave a home to perennial contender Carthage College. Currently, there are six institutions in the CCIW offering a men’s volleyball program. The National Champions at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI, Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, IL, Millikin University in Decatur, IL, North Central College in Naperville, IL, and North Park University in Chicago. Loras College in Dubuque, IA and Greenville University in Greenville, IL are associate members. Citing COVID-19 as a disruption to recruiting, Greenville University dropped the varsity status of the program and moved it to a club.
Enough of the introduction, here come the hot takes. That’s what Johnny Deepdish is about.
Augustana College– Augie, Augie, Augie. Where to begin. I think they excite me? Opened the season with a #cincoset loss to a pretty good Milwaukee School of Engineering at MSOE in that concrete box of sadness (this will be featured in my NACC Landscape piece). Then, three days later, swept Fontbonne (which is a good team) on the road in STL. Augie beat the teams they should have beat and lost to the teams they should have lost to. In the eyes of Johnny, that isn’t a recipe for a great team. That’s a good team, but not great. Setter Sanchit Khaitan finished third in conference with 9.11 A/S and the squad finished with 11.1 K/S. Decent numbers all around. I think this team will be middle of the pack next year and will pull out 1-2 upsets.
Carthage College– Two words, NATIONAL CHAMPIONS. That’s it, full stop. In my opinion, Carthage was the best team in the country with the best player in the country, Matt Slivinski (who got absolutely robbed for POY). With Slivinski coming back for a 5th year alongside AVCA newcomer of the year Gene McNulty (Setter) and All-American Zach Bulthuis the newly renamed Firebirds are heavily favored for a consecutive CCIW championship and a run at the Natty. I don’t want to hear the boo birds and the, b-b-but NYU, Springfield and MIT. Even if those teams did play, Carthage would have won. They are/were taller, faster, and way more physical.
Illinois Wesleyan University– The newest program in the CCIW, IWU (#TGOE) had a tough first year. But, I think this is going to be the program in the CCIW with the quickest ascension. Coach Brandon Mueller knows how to get things done. He is old school Springfield College. Hall of Fame Springfield College. IWU has great facilities and can draw in the suburban Chicago and St. Louis metro recruits. College ball is a big transition. This program’s stock will rise. Buy early, and that’s a Deepdish.
Loras College– In my professional opinion, Loras is on the outside looking in. At the end of the season the squad popped for COVID and lost their slot to North Park in the conference tournament which undoubtedly left a sour taste in their mouth. The thing with this team is, they are beating all the teams they should be beat, but coming up just short in the big games. They did snipe NCC in a 3-set sweep at the end of the year (although NCC was without their stud Jared Moser). There are flashes of brilliance. The Sophomore setter Joe Horn is someone to lookout for. Dishing out 9.63 A/S to young pins means there is time for growth and connection. Loras is definitely on the rise, but still behind Carthage and NCC… for now.
Millikin University– Another young program whose inaugural season was cut short because of COVID. The Big Blue has a lot of work to do, and the upside is 100%. This young team has tons of potential. Just like IWU, going from high school ball to playing adult men is a huge difference. The numbers being put up are respectable, 7.17 A/S, 7.83 K/S, 1.76 Blk/S. The stat I like is the 8.48 Digs/S and I’m going to say the cliché thing here, they just need to convert defense into offense. Winning the transition game is super important if the Big Blue want to be competitive.
North Central College– Simply put, the little brother in the CCIW. They are going to be chasing their big brother Carthage for the foreseeable future. But, just like playing driveway basketball with your older brother, there is going to be a time where you get competitive, and eventually beat them. Then you are winning every game. NCC is right there, right at being competitive. The games to watch in the 2021season were the NCC vs Carthage matches. High flying haymakers being thrown back and forth on each side of the net.
I like this program. I like Head Coach Kyle Exline and everything he’s doing. Junior Matt Nealon is an absolute baller with 8.62 A/S with 431 Assists in a modified 6-2 throughout the year. They hit a respectably .258 as a team on the season (with only a few outliers) while they stunted opponent’s offense to an anemic .106 on the season. I like those numbers. NCC is going to do big things next year (with a LITERALLY big recruiting class, 6’5 seemed to be the requirement in 2022).
North Park University– They seem like they have the makings to be a good team and even sniped a match from UC Santa Cruz. I’m not sure if their wins are flukes or what’s going on over on Foster Ave. Armando Quinones had 3.29 K/S but hit .198 on the season. Emmanuel Eugene looked pretty good, hitting .268 on the season. Their numbers aren’t “bad” and are showing progress. It will be interesting to see what they can do in the next few years.
Way to Early Rankings Predictions
- North Central
- North Park