Legends of the Fall-Ball

The National Championship is played in the month of April- but the journey has already begun. The nontraditional segment or “Fall Ball” is the first true look into the season ahead – as rosters flesh out and potential becomes realized. I had a chance to chat with coaches’ around the country about the most impactful position battles happening within top programs. Let’s dive in.

Carthage (Opposite)

I don’t think it’s fair to look at a National Championship team and say they had a weak link. The 2021 Carthage Firebirds complemented each other in such a way that allowed them to dominate Division III Men’s Volleyball on the way to their first National Championship in program history. With that being said, replacing Bryce Thomas on the right side allows Carthage the opportunity to add some dynamism into their attack- balancing out the high caliber arms of Matt Slivinski, Zach Bulthuis, and Carter Schmidt. With none of their incoming first years listed as true RS, I am curious to see where JW will look to find a successor to Thomas. Rumors are FLY(ER)ing around about a potential transfer who would add even more heat to the Firebird offense.

Dominican (Outside-2)

The Dominican Stars have as much continuity as you could hope for coming off the program’s 2nd Final Four Appearance. An All-American 5th year setter (Captain Jack McGuire), an All-American go to scorer on the right side (George Kougan), a breakout candidate at OH1 (Trey Cowan), and Division III’s best head of hair in the middle (Mat Molloy).

Losing M1 Troy Kates and Libero Bergin Demarco is tough, but they potential replacements in Jason Kougan (George’s “baby” brother) and Danny Pacini. Replacing Adrian Cebula (OH2) is the big question. A healthy mix of incoming first years and returners from the practice gym, Coach Cameron Andrew will have no shortage of options to shine in the role.

North Central (Setter)

Maybe my first “cheat pick” (incase you haven’t read past articles – I tend to always cut a corner in a section or selection) – We are staying in the Midwest to analyze the Cardinals. Coach Exline is looking up at Carthage in the CCIW, and rumor has it he is getting creative in his pursuit of the Firebirds.

From what I have heard, NCC is exploring the possibility of a 6-2 opening a path to get 6’7 S/RS Tyler Donovan onto the floor with more regularity. Appearing in 22 sets last year, Donovan did some setting and attacking for Exline’s squad and they are trying to find a more regular role. Half competition / half collaboration with incumbent setter Matt Nealon, I’ll be curious to see if this change can also introduce offensive dynamism along with its sheer size.

Vassar (Setter)           

Our first stop in Poughkeepsie, NY; I’m super curious to know what is brewing in the Vassar gym as it relates to the setter position. Jacob Kim and AJ Erickson both return for their sophomore season, continuing the two-horse race from last year’s UVC Championship run. The Brewers rotated between a 6-2 and 5-1 all last year, with both players taking the helm for brief periods. Each gained valuable big match experience via the UVC/NCAA tournaments.

This may sound like a copout, but before I can make an predictions about this battle, I think it’s important to know what Coach Gary’s plans are with All-American Gavin van Beveren (Opposite last year, Middle in 2020) for the 2022 season along with one other choice…

Vassar (Outside-2)

Staying in Poughkeepsie, another one of last year’s top position battles looks to hold its intensity in 2022. A bit of a revolving door for the Brewers last season, Coach Gary returns one of last year’s featured competitors in Kaplan while introducing some fresh faces (Billy Fan & Tobias Clark).

King of the Pond Ramius highlighted how Billy Fan can fit into the program earlier this summer. Not saying it won’t be him, but the odds on favorite is whoever has the best serve receive that will allow Andrew Kim, Van Beveren, and Colin Jones be featured on the offensive side of the ball.

SJFC (Setter)

Maybe the deepest and most interesting conversation of all those that we are examining today- Coach England has no shortage of toys in the chest when it comes to the setter position in 2022. A quick rundown: Graduate Student, Paul Hackford, who prior to injury was the only setter in program history to this point. Senior, Dylan Urbanski, who filled in admirably for SJFC when Hackford had his serious injury last season.

Two freshmen, Gavin Newman and Evan Ingerick, complement the Setting corps this year. Both come from competitive club programs (LIVBC and Hot Shots) and should add depth and variety for the Cardinals. Combining the size and athleticism of Hackford and the look we got at him attacking in the UVC Semifinals, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Coach England use two of these setters regularly in a 6-2.

Juniata (Setter)

Another program that was on the cusp on the NCAA Tournament this past year- then first year Reese Ganter was launched into the starting setter role after a gruesome thumb injury to Austin Goodsel. Ganter gained his wings throughout the season, guiding the Eagle offense admirably, He definitely had his growing pains, specifically in the CVC Final (as mentioned on the latest Pondcast).

If Goodsel can stay healthy, I anticipate an open competition to quarterback the Juniata offense, especially with the size and athleticism needed to matchup against the CVC top outsides of Jared Ray, Nahuel Recabarren, and Arvind Kumar. Add that to his reported connection with All-American middle, Kevin Duffy, and you’ve got a competition on your hands.

Rutgers-Newark (Middle-2)

The latest addition to be included in my list. This wasn’t a battle of any sort in my mind until the news of Martin Chromulak coming in as a transfer. I wrote about the impact first year Aaron LaPlaca had the chance to make for the Scarlet Raiders and Chromulak has the same opportunity. Adding elite size to New Jersey’s top contender, LaPlaca and Chromulak both have an inherit chemistry with Tuhoy from high school days and men’s tournaments (respectively). Throw Danny Quay into the mix, Rutgers-Newark has turned middle from a shallow weakness into a strength with a great mix of quality and quantity with this 3 headed monster.

*editors note 10/29/2021: Laplaca was confirmed to not be joing Rutgers-Newark after the publishing of this article.

Messiah (Opposite)

The MAC Champions and breakout program of 2021 shows no signs of slowing down in 2022. If you’ve paid attention to our content over the summer, I think the Falcons have a chance to be much better this year comparatively. Everyone in the FJ fam has touted the incoming freshmen class, but the bigger questions is who will by flying on the RS for the Falcons.

The main contenders so far appear to be Luke Olson and Jacob Hamm. Olson played in one match during ’21 season before an injury sidelined him the rest of the way (shout out to Jared Keul- a backup setter who held down the spot for the year). Olson has great size and a heavy arm, but struggles to match the tempo we saw the rest of the Messiah offense embrace in his absence. Jacob Hamm comes from Yorktowne with experience playing across the entire front row. A quicker athlete with more explosiveness, I expect him to be a serious contender for Coach Beachy on the right side- especially if Conner Stauffer can lockdown the OH2 spot