My Way to Early Top 10 (Ramius)

It’s kind of crazy how we are halfway through August already; freshmen are beginning to move into their dorms across the country and the new academic year is about to begin. While we have some time before programs begin Fall Ball, we at the Pond have been tirelessly working on new coverage features for the upcoming Men’s D3VB season.

You’ll see many of these new features in time, but one I’m happy to announce is the eventual release of the FrogJump Power Ranking system. We hope this season to provide a statistical-based ranking of the top performing teams throughout the year, and will reveal our official FrogJump Power Rankings before the first matches of 2022.

While I’m excited for this new feature, it does come with a hint of sadness. Before I began FrogJump I too used to be a VolleyTalk patron (troll), paying attention to the latest news/gossip of our landscape through what used to be the main channel of discourse for Men’s D3VB. Nothing got me more excited then watching the pot get stirred in the beginning of the season, as random posters would reveal their personal top 10/15 lists for the eventual rage responses of the community.

Once our model goes live, I won’t be publishing any personal opinion lists, as I’m an amateur statistician at heart and do believe numbers-based metrics are superior to eye tests at most levels (not to take away from the intrinsic value of a coach’s eye). However… our model isn’t live yet, which means I’m free to stir the pot with my opinions as much as I choose!

I’m happy to present to you my first (and hopefully last) “Way to early top 10” list. Please know this ranking means intrinsically nothing (much like my opinion), and merely reflects where I personally think the Landscape starts coming into 2022. Harvey and Bradley think I’m on crack as always, but let’s get after it.

1. Carthage

There’s no surprise here; the reigning D3 National Champions return 5 of their starting 7 from last years undefeated roster. Slivinski (OH), Bulthuis (MB), McNulty (S) and Cohan (L) have established themselves as premier players at their positions, and I personally think Carter Schmidt is going to break out this year and join them. While Dominican, NCC, and Benedictine have their eyes set on them… Carthage continues to rule the Midwest with one of the most complete rosters in the landscape. They remain the kings of the D3VB until they are beaten.

2. Springfield

Springfield College Men’s Volleyball host Endicott College at Blake Arena in Springfield on Saturday, March 13, 2021.

Many in the landscape would say Springfield enters this season as the best team on paper, and I wouldn’t fault them for it. The roster has more All-Americans currently in uniform than many programs have in a 4-year cycle. It took a shortened season, a bad match, and a pandemic to keep Springfield out of the NCAA tournament last year, and we simply won’t see those circumstances again. I thoroughly expect this Pride team to be out to prove themselves in 2022, and they have the talent to stand atop the mountain at the end of the year.

3. Dominican

The Stars have a roster that’s ready to battle for D3VB supremacy. Kougan (OP), McGuire (S), Cowan (OH), and Molloy (MB) all return after an NACC Conference Championship/NCAA Final Four appearance. I wish I could go more in depth on the Stars, but with them brevity will get the job done. This 2022 star will likely be better than the 2021 team.

Replacing Kates (MB) and Cebula (OH) will be a challenge, but they’ve made the roster moves necessary to address these holes. DON’T SWING LOW SIX ON A KOUGAN, I’M WRITING THIS IN BOLD, CAPS AND ITALICS FOR EMPHASIS. They’ll be one of the best blocking teams in the landscape, and sit at number three in my way to early preseason take.

4. Juniata

I can already see the “are you on crack Ramius” DM’s now. Stay out of my inbox, and get used to Juniata being at the top of the Division III rankings this coming season. This team started three freshmen last year and were able to defeat the immensely talented teams of Rutgers-Newark and Kean in the hyper competitive CVC. They return All-American Kevin Duffy (who is very likely the best middle in D3VB right now) 1st-team All-CVC Robert Bowling (OP), and breakout candidate Will Phelan (OH) to solidify the rising trio of Goldsborough (OH), Ganter (S), and Hoffman (MB).

Experience matters, and the young Eagles aren’t that young anymore. This Juniata team is in my personal top 5 coming into 2022, and while that might be a tad high for everyone else in the landscape, I think they might end up being surprised.

5. Vassar

The Reigning UVC Champions, Vassar comes into this season rounding out my personal top 5. They faced a tough road in last years NCAA tournament, losing to Dominican in their Elite 8 matchup. Andrew Kim was my dark horse player of the year candidate last year, Colin Jones had a breakout freshmen campaign, and Gavin Van Beveren is one of the top 3 middles in D3VB. The Brewers enter the season as the favorite to win the UVC and start out in my top 5. As always, if you can win the UVC, you can win the NCAA Championship.

6. New Paltz

The big narrative of the Hawks has been their loss of All-Americans Matt Grace, Aaron Carrk, Nick O’Malley and UVC Defensive player of the year Robert Nolan. Any program losing this level of production from four key seniors is going to take a step back, but the Hawks are well insulated from the drop off I think everyone is expecting.

As a proud Alumni, I know I’m biased. But the next generation of Hawks have thoroughly impressed me and I’m excited for them to get a chance to show the landscape how strong they are. While they can hang with the best DIII has to offer, I don’t see them starting as near the top of the mountain like last year’s group. I believe this squad has top 5 potential come April, but for now they are in a sense a gatekeeper to the elite of D3VB until they prove otherwise.

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For those who listen to our Pondcast, it is no secret that I am high on MIT coming into 2022. Despite not playing last year, the same team who ended 2020 9-1 in their last ten matches is returning every one of their core contributors. They went 4/5 in games against ranked teams with their one loss being to New Paltz (a top 3 program in 2020).

Brady Darby (Middle Blocker) will be returning to the roster for what should be a breakout season, and they probably have the best recruiting class of all D3 programs this season. They’re firmly in my personal top 10 to start 2022, where their ceiling is I’m not too sure.

8. Messiah

The breakout program of 2021, the Falcons return a roster of tested upperclassmen after an Elite 8 run in 2021. All-Americans Mason Nissley, Matt Knab, and Nate Bowman turned heads last season, and Owen Hanzelman (libero) is earning the nickname “Nail Gun” as one of the rising Libero talents in D3.

Like MIT, Messiah has brought one of the more talented freshmen classes of the whole landscape, headlined by prospect Ryan Givens (Middle blocker). The extra offensive depth the Yorktowne boys will provide Messiah is going to alleviate the pressures on Nissley, and make them much more dynamic. Despite their 2021 Elite 8 appearance, the Falcons flirted in between the 12-16 spots in the coaches poll for the majority of the season. They are firmly a top 10 program coming into 2022, and their ceiling could be much higher.

9. North Central College

I think NCC tends to be very underrated within the landscape, so please don’t be surprised to see them higher on my list then most. The Cardinals were one of the last teams eliminated from a possible NCAA at-large bid last season; I guarantee they could have made some noise under the bright lights in Salem had they gone to the dance.

Given their season’s sudden end due to covid complications last season, I guarantee they’ll be bringing a lot of energy to every ranked opponent they face in 2022. The corps Coach Exline has developed over the last three years are now upperclassmen, and Moser and Cardenas are standout talents at their positions. Where their ceiling ultimately ends is up to them.

10. Southern Virginia University

The Knights round out my preseason top 10. They also spent the majority of last season under the landscapes radar, and I’ll be woe to make the same mistake again. SVU has the biggest perceived fallout in my initial estimations for 2022, as Kaipo Tagaloa (Setter) graduated and both Sam Candland (OP) and Jothan Castillo (L) won’t be on the roster this year. These were three key contributors from last years Final Four team.

The team still retains perennial All-American candidate Nahuel Recabarren (OH) and 3rd team All-CVC Middle McKay Walker, and has a solid talent in Chip Baldwin (OP) waiting to break into a starting role. I underestimated Tom Peterson once last year, I won’t do it again. The man knows how to maximize his rosters talents and the Knights will continue to be a threat in the CVC and D3VB in 2022.

What Now?

While I only listed my top 10, the AVCA Coaches Poll ranks the Top 15. It was incredibly difficult to rationalize the inclusion and exclusion of certain programs at various positions, and even if I was to expand it to 15 teams I would still have trouble. Simply put, there are more teams worthy of being ranked in 2022 than at any point I can remember in the last ten years. Many would argue this is a by product of the landscape’s expansion, watering down the quality of programs.

I simply don’t agree. While the landscape may never approach the hyper competitiveness of the 2016 D3VB landscape, 2022 is going to be a blood bath for D3VB supremacy. Even now, there are 8-10 teams not mentioned above that have legitimate arguments to be included in my not-really-important-at-all preseason assessment. Quality programs are going to be left out of the AVCA Coaches Poll every week, and “upsets” are going to happen often on paper, as quality unranked programs defeat ranked ones. We’re slowly getting to a point where the Coaches Poll might need to consider ranking the top 20 programs, because 16-20 will be just as good as 11-15.

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