Baker’s Dozen: Pepperjack’s 2022 Breakout Student-Athletes

Before the 2021 season I set out to identify 5 breakout student-athletes who would either take a leap or burst onto the scene in the world of Division III Men’s Volleyball. To appease my ego- let’s check back on my 5 picks.

  • Kevin Duffy – MB – Juniata
    • Unanimous First Team AVCA All-American & CVC Player of the Year
  • Adam Gulick – RS – Vassar
    • NCAA Elite 8
  • Jake Milnazik – OH – Kean
    • Second Team AVCA All-American
  • Mason Nissley – OH – Messiah
    • AVCA National Player of the Year, Unanimous First Team AVCA All-American, & MAC Player of the Year
  • Colin Stockton – MB – Wentworth
    • NCAA Elite 8

Three of my five picks were an absolute success, and while the other two didn’t match the same individual production, their programs still had excellent years. In regards to Gulick and Stockton, I’m reminded of one of my favorite phrases “Never wrong, only early”. With at least a 60% success rate, I am expanding my selections for the 2022 season, identifying 13 student-athletes poised for a big season.

Trey Cowan – OH – Dominican

One of a few student-athletes placed on this list after their performance in the NCAA Tournament, Cowan’s selection to the All-Tournament team was well deserved. Kougan and McGuire collect most of the headlines, Kates & Molloy carried the personality of the team, but Cowan was the quiet workhorse for the Stars 2021 post-season run. His seemingly effortless arm swing pays dividends not only when attacking but also with the tremendous service pressure he provides from 30 feet. I expect to see Cowan relieve some of the offensive burden off of Kougan and see a higher volume without a drop in his 2021 efficiency (2.29 Kills/Set at .323) putting him in the All-American discussion.

Will Phelan – OH – Juniata

Going back to the Central Pennsylvania well for this one, Phelan had an excellent sophomore campaign for the Eagles despite playing a limited match load due to injury. Phelan burst onto the scene in the CVC semi-final against Kean where you can make an argument, he had the best match of anyone on that floor (which is saying a lot) exploding for 20 kills at .500 clip in the thrilling 5 set win. Duffy will continue to draw attention freeing up both Phelan and Goldsborough for 1v1s & with a year of experience under his belt, I think Ganter will find a better balance in utilizing all the weapons at his disposal. That can launch Phelan into the All-Region discussion.

Liam York – OH – Springfield

Last year I alluded to the face that Duffy was a cheat pick that I expected him to vault into the discussion of the nationally elite middles (which he certainly fulfilled). York is a pick for me in the same way. My colleague (Ramius) has been singing his praises after seeing him in action this fall- saying he looks the part of an OH1 and that is great news for the Pride because he gets to do so alongside Brennan Brandow and Jarret Anderson, giving Coach Sullivan his own volleyball Cerberus at the pins in 202 with all three in the All-American mix.

Jacob Labouilere – OH – Wentworth

My 2nd repeat program pick from my 2021 list, this Leopard is ready to step into the SPOTlight for Coach Giglio. The slender sophomore is expected to slot in as the OH1 after bouncing around at a few different positions in 2021. After averaging less than 6 attempts per set last season, Labouilere should see his volume increase following the graduation of Ryan2 (Engel and Love). Behind the Springfield quartet- I expect “Labou” to be the top player in New England region and on the verge of an All-American nod.

Mark Bruns – RS – Mount Union

It’s no secret that I am high on Mount Union heading into the 2022 season. Heading into their 4th year as a varsity program, the Raiders have a group of seniors who have improved in each season, even giving a strong Fontbonne team a run for their money in the 2021 MCVL Final. Mark Bruns making the jump in 2022 is the key to them taking the next step as a program. Seeing a decrease in volume during 2021 (2.03 Kills/Set) helped Bruns make a big jump in efficiency (.321) vaulting over his 2019 & 2020 numbers. The graduation of primary attacker Justin Sibbel will out Bruns back into the forefront of the Raider offense (along with near breakout pick Cameron Ternent) so he will see increased volume without a huge dip in efficiency. Four years of building chemistry with setter Jeremy Leyden will pay off as Bruns is my darkhorse pick for MCVL Player of the Year if the Raiders can challenge the Griffins for conference supremacy.

Cameron Graves – OH – Fontbonne

Possibly the most obvious pick on the list, Graves flew high for the Griffins in last years NCAA Tournament match against Messiah. While teammate Ryan Lively may get most of the public recognition, Graves perfectly balances the offense with his huge leap and dynamic arm. With Kyler Van Rossum O’Connell back to direct the offense for a 6th year, Graves and Lively holding down the pins, it’s no surprise why I am high on Fontbonne in 2022 and we can be talking about Graves as a potential All-Region player.

Jeremy Cardenas – MB – North Central

The Cardinals main man in the middle, Cardenas looks like the ideal middle. Listed at an astounding 6’9 and 200lb, he lives up to the size in person. Threatening on both sides of the ball, Cardenas was just under 2 kills/set & 1 block/set in 2021- but I expect to see those numbers jump in year 2 with setter Matt Nealon and the possibility of hitting off of Tyler Donovan. The true judge will be seeing if Cardenas can increase his volume and efficiency against top competition in the CCIW (Carthage, Augustana, and Loras). I know he has it in him after posting a 10-0-15 with 5 Blocks in their first match with Loras, and I expect to see it more often in 2022 launching his name into the All-American discussion.

Ian Smith – OH – Endicott

The Brynn Lipton era is over in Beverly. There are a few other names that helped usher in the unprecedented success for the Gulls (namely the perennially underrated Jeremy Doski, IMO) but Coach Chappell will need a new OH1 to carry the offensive load in the new look NECC. Rafa Robert may be the more apparent name, but I really like Ian Smith to step into a big role. If you recognize the name, it is probably from his 6 ace performance against Springfield last season. He gained some valuable experience attacking last season (albeit against weaker competition) and performed at a super efficient clip (.472). I don’t think he will match that but we will see his volume increase and find his name in the All-Region discussion.

Pat Wing – MB – New Paltz

While their right sides might steal the show, New Paltz has a history of elite offensive middles over the past 10 years (Chris Husmann, Steve Woesner, and most recently Nick O’Malley). After spending 2021 as the M2- Wing is ready to fill that role for the Hawks (and they will need it). Although he received less than 3 attempts per set, Wing was efficient at a .397 clip. New Paltz will be replacing a lot of attempts and Wing will be on the receiving end of many, and best of all- they won’t all be against a combo of Elmira, Fisher, Naz, and Vassar. Putting those elements together- I’d expect to see him on an UVC All-Conference team in 2022.

Cade Terrell – S – Randolph-Macon

Possibly the most underground name on my list, I won’t chastise anyone for not knowing who Cade Terrell is. Prior to Kaipo Tagaloa announcing his return, I would have made the claim that Terrell is the best Division III setter in the state of Virginia. The former high school state champion may not have eye popping numbers from the 2021 season, but if you watched the Yellow Jackets, you could see the improvement of play under Terrell direction. With incoming transfer Drew Klein joining the hive- I expect the Jackets to sting a few opponents this year with Terrell being talked about as one of the CVC’s premier setters.

Ryan Whealen – S – NYU

One could make an argument that this breakout has been 4 years in the making. After playing sparingly in the 2019 campaign, Whealen was starting to battle for the starting position in 2020 for the ultra-talented Violets before the season was cut short (and the world was changed). Then NYU announced they would be forgoing competition in 2021 and Whealen was forced to wait another year to direct the ultra-Violet offense. Now he has the keys to the car with outsides Gautham Dasari and James Haag also ready to burst on the scene. This NYU team will hover around the 10-15 spot all season long with Whealen in the All-UVC and All-Region discussion.

Nathan Klimmisch – OH – Benedictine

Last year’s Benedictine team should be a case study on making the most of what you have available to you. Klimmisch had some big moments for the National Runners Up. Grygo and Olson will continue to carry the torch for the Eagle offense. But if Coach Staple wants to return to the NCAA Tournament, Klimmisch will have to develop into a true OH1. A true RS playing on the left for the first time last year, Nathan played very well for the Division III team in Brazil which bodes well for the season and has had the whole fall and upcoming pre-season to build chemistry with new setter Sanchit Khatan. A breakout season Klimmisch will have him in the All-NACC discussion and back in the NACC Final as well.

Danny Quay – MB – Rutgers Newark

My original draft of this article did not include Danny Quay- or any Rutgers-Newark student-athletes (as I’ve given them a ton of love already). But after seeing Danny in action this fall- I knew I had to add him to the list. Building off an already great connection with setter Justin Tuohy, Quay looks even better on offense. Defensively, he has always been an excellent blocker but after a summer where he transformed physically adding both muscle and quickness he looks like one of the strongest blockers in the country. With an improved squad and increased service pressure, I predict Quay will lead the nation in blocking and find himself on an All-Region team at year’s end.