Matches of the Month: January Edition

Leading into each month, I will attempt to highlight and rank the premier matches in the world of Division III Men’s Volleyball. The increase of quality and depth across the landscape has given us more marquee showdowns than I remember in year’s past- so let’s get after it!

13. #8 New Paltz @ University of California Santa Cruz – January 15th

New Paltz will be ushering in a new generation of Hawks – as someone other than Matt Grace conducting the offense for the first time since 2016. Replacing Nick O’Malley and Aaron Carrk will mean the offense has a completely new look across the board. As you know, I’m expecting big things from Pat Wing, and I’m certain a few more Hawks are eager to prove themselves. For the Banana Slugs, they played an extremely abbreviated slate in 2021 and didn’t even have an opportunity to find their stride. But this Santa Cruz team steps in with lots of youth, size, and enthusiasm and will be looking to make a name for themselves against the former champions.

12. Arcadia @ #4 Vassar – January 29th

The last time these men in maroon squared off early in the 2020 season, the Brewers left the Keystone state prevailing 3-1 over the Knights. Both teams ended their 2021 season on a bit of a sour note – Vassar bowing out to Dominican in the Elite 8 and Arcadia losing 4 of their last 5 before falling to Alvernia in the MAC Tournament. This matchup will pit two First Team All-American Outside Hitters against each other in Arcadia’s Quinn Bailey and Vassar’s Andrew Kim. While I expect big production from both of them there is also a great showdown of bulky Right Sides – Colin Nissley and Adam Gulick. The tale of the tape will be Arcadia’s ability to handle Vassar’s immense service pressure.

11. MIT @ Rivier – January 22nd

A Northeast showdown between programs who haven’t competed in almost two years (lets say 22 months). MIT has a highly touted incoming class Ramius and I have touched on extensively in the run up to this season. This will be the Engineers 3rd match of the season, but the first real chance to evaluate their freshmen talent. Rivier concluded 2020 with a 4 set loss to MIT (and 3 set sweep of Sage), so it is only fitting we see them open the 2022 season with the same opponent. Senior setter Pedro Campos and Graduate Student David Smith will be leading the lineup for the Raiders as they chase down Wentworth for GNAC dominance. A win over MIT would go a long way.

10. #5 Benedictine @ #14 North Central – January 28th

Our first trip into the Midwest, these are two programs with something to prove in 2022. In my opinion, they’ll be tussling with each other to prove they are the 3rd wheel on the Midwest tricycle with Carthage and Dominican (Fontbonne also in this discussion- Griffins please don’t come after me).

Benedictine is looking to prove last year’s run to the National Title match was not a fluke, while North Central seeks to cement themselves as a Midwest Power. Their will be some personal vendettas as well, as standout Middles Jeremy Cardenas (NCC) and All-American Chase Olson (Benedictine) go head to head. Jared Moser and Jacob Grygo will be pitted against one another in an attempt to prove who the superior high volume scorer as Sanchit Khaitan seeks to help Benedictine do the one thing they couldn’t do last year, beat NCC.

9. #11 St. John Fisher @ #9 Juniata – January 29th

By the time these two programs face off, they both will have been well tested. There’s a few possible scenarios at play A) Both programs get off to a good start and look to cement themselves as national contenders. B) Only one of the two programs get off to a good start- so one would be looking to continue and the other looking to reverse their fortune. C) Both programs get off to a poor start and are fighting to keep a Pool C bid alive against each other. This match will come down to slowing down each other’s primary attackers- Josh Bigford for SJF and Kevin Duffy for Juniata.

8. #1 Carthage @ NYU – January 21st

We’re in for a treat with this Friday night showdown. Carthage is traveling to the Big Apple where their offense will rival Hamilton for the best show in NYC. Much like the aforementioned MIT and Rivier, NYU will have the chance to display what they have been cooking up in their 22 month absence from the world of Division 3 Volleyball. The Violets have to absolutely crank it from the service line to have any hope of slowing down “Don’t Blow This For Us” Gene McNulty and his dynamic Firebird offense. But at the end of the day, the physicality of Matt Slivinski, Carter Schmidt, and Zach Bulthius will be too much for the inexperience NYU middles to handle.

7. #10 Wentworth @ #3 Springfield – January 29th

The Commonwealth Clash between two of Massachusetts premier powerhouse programs- this match was effectively a conference championship in 2021. The Leopards kept the Pride out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Springfield program history. After Wentworth lowered the proverbial ceiling on Springfield with 12 Total Blocks across 4 sets held the Pride to an uncharacteristic .173 attack percentage – Coach Sullivan will certainly emphasize having his pins make smarter decisions at the net. On the Leopards side of the net, I’ll be excited to see the growth (literal and figurative) of breakout pick Jacob LaBouliere and bounce back pick Hunter Oshman.

6. #3 Springfield @ NYU – January 26th

Our first midweek showdown on the list features two former EIVA rivals squaring off early in the season. NYU handed Springfield a rare loss in Blake via a 3-0 sweep back in 2020. While the Violets and venue will be different, the Springfield team will look similar- just older. Seeing NYU outsides, James Haag and Gautham Dasari compete against a premier right side like Jarret Anderson will give us a better idea of where they fit within this season’s pool of nationally elite outsides.

5. #6 Southern Virginia @ #7 Messiah (PSU Altoona) – January 22nd

I think the 2022 version of Messiah will look stronger with the addition of 3 stud first years in Ryan Given, Jacob Hamm, and Conner Stauffer while the 2022 SVU squad will look a bit weaker without Samuel Candland, Jothan Castillo, and Mark Stapley. However, the Knights will still have Kaipo Tagaloa and Nahuel Recabarren. Messiah struggled to slowdown the Fontbonne outsides in their 2021 NCAA Tournament, which should have Recabarren licking his lips. If Messiah has Final Four aspirations this is a match where they need to take care of business.

4. #2 Dominican @ #9 Juniata – January 21st

This is the line where the matchups really jump to the next level. A match-up between two elite programs (by my estimation), there are a lot of interesting angles with this one. NCAA Tournament implications in terms of both seeding and at-large selections, I suspect the Stars and Eagles will see their season seriously affected by this early season matchup. Not only will this matchup mean a lot to both teams, but also in the never ending battle for supremacy between the Midwest and East Coast. Juniata alumnus Cameron Andrew will have his veteran squad prepared for one of college volleyball’s premier venues on a Friday night.

3. #7 Messiah @ #13 Rutgers-Newark – January 29th

By the time this match is being played, I fully anticipate it will be a Top 5 showdown as well as a battle for supremacy in NCAA Region 2 (the NCAA has realigned into 3 regions for 2022). There are a number of incredible individual matchups in this clash of the titans. Andrew Zaleck vs. Mason Nissley maybe the one most people are excited for but I’ll be watching the two setters squaring off, Justin Tuohy and Matt Knab. The biggest key to me will be which setter is more comfortable with their new toys early in the season.

2. #3 Springfield @ #13 Rutgers-Newark (Ramapo) – January 22nd

Holy cow. The first weekend of D3 competition for Springfield (after their perennial California trip) and the first weekend of competition for Rutgers-Newark. This match is going to be a heavyweight showdown. I’m super excited to see Jared Ray and Jarret Anderson go head to head in this one. It’s almost like they were designed in a lab to stop or slow each other down. The X-Factor to me will be the ability for Justin Tuohy and Matt Lilley to get their middles involved on offense and take some pressure off of their featured pins.

1. #2 Dominican @ #1 Carthage – January 28th

A rematch of last year’s Final Four, and one that I would say was a proverbial national championship match. I can’t believe we are being treated to such an excellent game so early in the season. Both of these teams will be well tested from their East Coast adventure by the time of first serve. Both teams did a great job slowing down the respective All-American pin hitters (Slivinski hit .190 and Kougan .162). It should be a blast to see this rematch, the dynamic Carthage offense versus the Dominican stalwart block. A true treat for us in the last weekend of January.