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Just the Right Spice: Pepperjack’s too early top 10

It’s official, Ramius has gone full Harvey Dent on us- becoming a dedicated agent of chaos for the Joker. While I appreciate his dedication to “stirring the pot” I cannot in good conscience allow his way too early Top 10 to represent all of us at the pond. I will not comment on Ramius’ asinine rankings – even though I contemplated it deeply. So while I may not be the hero that D3MVB deserves, right now I am the one that it needs.

1: Carthage

The Firebirds return 5 of 7 starters and (as Ramius outlined) you could make an argument that three of them are the premier returning student-athletes at their respective positions: Bulthius, Cohan, and Slivinski. I think it is a stretch to include “Don’t Blow This For Us” Gene McNulty- but he is the perfect setter for the Carthage offense. I have them as 1A, but as defending national champions- they get the nod for my preseason top spot.

2: Springfield

For the first time ever in the NCAA Championship Era, the Pride not only missed out on the NCAA Final Four, but the entire NCAA Tournament. A truncated season with travel restrictions lead to the Pride only having a nine match schedule in 2021. It took a global pandemic to keep them out of the dance, something tells me this won’t happen again. The Pride, like Carthage, have their own collection of standout positional talents; Anderson (OP), Brandow (OH) , Parker (MB) & Reynolds (MB) are not controversial picks when talking about the best players at each position group. The big x-factor for me will be the setting battle between Austin Richards and Matt Lilley.

3: Dominican

Captain Jack McGuire, anyone who has read my work knows I have a soft spot for Captain Jack and what he brings to the Stars. They return 4 of 7 starters and have the chance to become even more physical by replacing Cebula (even though they lose Kates in the middle). I expect Cowan (OH) to burst onto the national stage in 2022, as he was chronically underrated last year.

4: Messiah

Photo Credit: Messiah Athletics

Likely the first big surprise. I was high on Messiah last season (rightfully so) and continue to be so in 2022. They return 5 of 7 starters, 3 All-Americans and the National Player of the Year. Knab (Setter) and Nissley (OH) are both in the conversation to be considered the best at their position, and Bowman is a top shelf middle. Replacing Ian Parzyszek will be tough in terms of ball control, but they will be bigger and more physical on the outside with their excellent freshman class. Speaking of excellent freshman, I predict Ryan Givens wins AVCA Newcomer of the Year and All-American honors (you heard it here first). This team is going to continue moving forward.

5: Vassar

Photo Credit: Vassar Athletics

Playing under as a many COVID protocols and restrictions as any team in the country, it is pretty impressive that Vassar was able to reach the NCAA Tournament. Simultaneously, it was unsurprising they had a bit of disappointing Tournament. Unable to settle on solid line-up, Vassar still has one of nations best collections of talent. Andrew Kim will continue to be among the country’s elite, I hope to see Gavin van Beveren back in the middle with Collin Jones, and I think I was one year too early on the Adam Gulick breakout season. I have Vassar as a clear favorite early on in the UVC.

6: Rutgers-Newark

Photo Credit: Rutgers-Newark Athletics

Vassar may have had the high watermark for protocols and restrictions, but Rutgers-Newark was the program most affected by COVID. Competing in the 2021 season with only 9 (I repeat 9) student-athletes including no reserve hitters. Tuhoy and Zaleck will remain in the All-American discussions, and they have a solid freshman class joining their returners (and a potential transfer) to challenge the starters as well as provide more depth. I expect Coach Wilson to take advantage of all the toys in his chest as Rutgers will again rise among the nations elite programs.

7: Juniata

Photo Credit: Juniata Athletics

The margin of difference between the Golden Eagles and Scarlet Raiders is razor in my mind, but Glenn DeHaven has a cupboard full of weapons returning in 2022 for another CVC Title run. Duffy is the country’s best middle (I want to watch him and Bulthius battle in an academic decathlon- Billy Madison style), Will Phelan (OH) is a breakout candidate for 2022, and Robert Bowling (OP), Tyler Goldsborough (OH), Reese Ganter (OH) and Luke Hoffman (MB) all return. Juniata was unable to feature Duffy as much as they would like in CVC title game and had trouble scoring at the pins. If they want to take down an improved RUN next year- they need to crack one of those two codes.

8: Benedictine

Photo Credit: Benedictine Athletics

The National Runner-Ups have more volatility than any top team in the country. If Coach Christian Staple is able to replace Lionheart LeGros (easier said than done)- I think they will be in a wonderful spot. If they cannot find a suitable replacement, I think this team will struggle. While replacing LeGros is getting all the headlines, Tommy Samaras also provided a lot for this group from an emotional standpoint. Replacing his role will be challenge for anyone to step into.  Chase Olson remains one of the nation’s best offensive middles and Jacob Grygo needs no introduction. They have a budding star in Nathan Klimisch, and rumor has it Party Marty Radomski will be continuing the solo roofing business he began in Salem.

9: Fontbonne

I’m all in on the Griffin magic in. Kyler van Rossum-O’Connell is back for YEAR 6 of college volleyball, and there is literally no more experienced setter in the country. Lively is a top tier OH ready to carry the load offensively as Fontbonne looks to remain in the national conversation. Cameron Graves had huge breakout during the NCAA tournament and will be a great balance for Lively if he replicates that level of play in 2022. Replacing Stone Cold Zach Rothstein will be tough, but I am confident Fontbonne can get it done and be a fixture in the National Poll.

10: New York University

There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the Violets. They were arguably one of the top 3 programs in 2020, but have since lost the upperclassmen who made them so and missed all of last season. Despite this, I still like their prospects in 2022. Ryan Whaelen (S) is NYU’s breakout candidate, as he’ll take over conductor duties for the Violet offense. As long as they can replace the pin production from 2020, NYU should be in/around the top 10 of the landscape throughout 2022; perhaps even higher.

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