Our first Pond Talk of 2022! For those of you who are knew, Pond Talk is our Monday segment here at The Pond where the contributors each answer a few questions regarding the landscape narratives which formed over the past week of matches. Whether you think our takes are great or not is up to you, but lets dive in.
We had a couple “upsets” this weekend as Stevenson and Cal Lu both defeated #8 New Paltz and Nazareth defeated #12 Juniata. What significance do these results have on the landscape at large?
Ramius: I’m not sure honestly. The weekend definitely showed a vulnerable New Paltz, but I think the major implications won’t be felt until later in the season. Stevenson has a win over a regional opponent which will be huge once Regional Rankings are released, and cross region play for Cal Lutheran gives them a huge boost since they are playing for a Pool B/C bid.
My inbox has been full of messages from people telling me not to sleep on Nazareth in their matchup with Juniata, and the confidence of these senders bore fruit. Nazareth played hard and reminded everyone this program has the talent to make noise on the national stage. So by and large, great weekends for Stevenson, Cal Lu, and Nazareth; underwhelming weekends for Juniata and New Paltz.
Bradley: These upsets prove that there is a lot of dispersed talent among the D3 landscape this year. Stevenson and Cal Lu were able to take down a SUNY New Paltz team that is hungry to prove themselves. Melbardis (11k, .500) stepped up in the big moments for Stevenson, and Cal Lutheran played well in transition and scrapped out points defensively.
Another player I was impressed with this weekend was Owen Wickens, who quite literally did it all for the Golden Flyers. Wickens finished the Juniata match with 9 kills (.316), 35 assists and 7 aces. With Nazareth taking down #12 Juniata, I believe that the UVC will (once again) be THE powerhouse conference in D3. There will be 6 squads in the UVC flirting with the AVCA rankings every week (and the FrogJump Power Ranking model, of course). These teams are (in no order); Vassar, St. John Fisher, New Paltz, Nazareth, MIT and NYU.
Harvey: The Nazareth upset shows that 2-6 in the UVC is going to be a dog fight. I still have Vassar as the top dog, but no order of Fisher, MIT, NYU, New Paltz and Naz would shock me. Juniata will need to tighten up serve receive- 16 swings for Duffy in 4 sets is not nearly enough. The best version of their team looks like 2018 Vassar with Duffy playing the Matt Knigge role.
Stevenson’s excellent weekend in California shows they will still be a top contender to Messiah in the MAC despite graduating some key pieces. Aleks Melbardis returning is huge for them as he has a great arm on the right side. As for New Paltz- I left them out of my too early Top 10 back in August for a reason. They graduated an incredible class last Spring and think it may take some time for them to find their identity. But I will tout breakout pick Pat Wing for his tremendous performance.
We had a bunch of stand out performances in the first week. Which player caught your eye the most?
Ramius: Johjan Musa Robles had one of the best libero performances I’ve seen in a while this past weekend against LIU. 11-13 receptions in system, 7 of 13 were perfect passes, final passer rating was a 2.5 on a 3 point scale… AND 5 DIGS A SET. Consider me impressed Mr. Robles.
Bradley: Wickens would have to be the first option here given his role in the big upset and versatility – however Harvey stole that away. Another player I was personally impressed with was Pat Wing (SUNY New Paltz). Wing compiled 32 kills (.458 hitting %) and 6 aces over 14 sets for the Hawks.
Harvey: Owen Wickens. Launching the Golden Flyers to a 4-0 start, Wickens did it all this weekend. 2.5 Kill/Set while hitting .520 with 8.5 Assists/Set with the team hitting .314 and 1.25 Aces/Set including 7 against Juniata. Just a weekend full of incredible performances.
Which team impressed you the most in the first week of action?
Ramius: Springfield hands down looked the most crisp this past weekend to my eye. LIU wasn’t bad for a first year DI/II program, and Springfield was able to do what they do best regardless, win.
Brandow (OH) and York (OH) both hit over .380, Nate Reynolds (MH) went 8-0-9 , Robles picked up everything while freshmen Setter Ethan Weislo facilitated on offense which hit .338. Springfield has one of the toughest schedules of any program in D3VB this year, and they look ready to run right through it.
Bradley: Nobody. I’d be lying if I said any team truly “impressed” me this week. However, there were teams that went into their first matches ready to take care of business (against solid competition), which I can give credit for. These being – Nazareth, Stevenson and Springfield.
Harvey: Since we’ve already talked about the two biggest winners of the weekend above, I’ll give a shout to St. John Fisher. Although they didn’t square off with top flight competition, they absolutely took care of business. 9 sets of dominance with the Cardinals hitting .346 and averaging 5.4 Aces/Set. First years Evan Ingerick and Gavin Newman took turns conducting the Cardinal offense and they both looked very comfortable.
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