Probably the most notable result of the weekend was Stevens losing to Carthage at the beginning of their Midwest trip. What are your thoughts?
Ramius: My initial thought, and one that seems to need being repeated, is that winning is hard. Winning consistently is harder. Winning consistently against elite opponents, damn near impossible. The Ducks have a) one of the hardest schedules of any team this season and b) the best resume of wins to date. They’re going to be fine with the system and talent they have this year, and I expect them to be a player in April. Their first loss of the season coming from the hands of a Carthage squad finding its rhythm in Tarble Arena … you’ll have to excuse me for not freaking out too much about it. I wouldn’t fault anyone for keeping them at #1 in their personal poll even with the loss.
I think if anything the win highlights the talent and potential of Carthage. The Firebirds turned a corner after their 5-set win over UCSC, and have looked more like last year’s version of themselves in matches against Benedictine, Aurora, and now Stevens. Early season struggles aside, if this is the Carthage team we see the rest of the year, sleep on them at your own risk. They have the weapons to beat anyone.
Harvey: Traveling is hard. Especially with 18-22 year olds,and doubly so when you only make a few trips like that in your entire career. Look at the Carthage east coast trip last year, losses to NYU and Stevens didn’t derail their national title aspirations and I feel the same way about this Stevens squad.
On the flip side, it showed that Carthage is still very clearly the top dog in the Midwest and a favorite to appear in the Final 4 yet again. To look into the X’s and O’s a bit more, Stevens has been susceptible against elite serving (Set 1 vs. New Paltz) and while yes every program struggles when out of system- Stevens offense really relies on creating 1v1 for the outside hitters. I think it will be interesting to see how the Juniata service pressure affects them later this month
Lindsay: I think it was more important for Carthage than it was Stevens. The Ducks have played strong volleyball all season. It’s okay to not be perfect and they don’t need to go undefeated. Stevens has some depth too as it looks like they have viable subs across multiple spots. They don’t need to overly rely on just one guy for production and the same can’t be said for some of the other top 5 teams. Carthage has been searching for it a little, so good on them to go out and dominate. Their schedule slows down a little over the next few weeks and the next big match might not come until March vs North Central.
Likewise, what are your thoughts on Marymount almost defeating Juniata in 5?
Ramius: I have the same initial thought I did when Stevens lost to Carthage, winning is hard. Credit to Marymount for taking Juniata the distance and making them earn it. They were able to slow down Duffy and the Juniata outsides enough to stay in the match, and it was truly anybody’s game in the 5th up until the last 5 points.
As it stands, Juniata still found a way to win, and that matters. You’re not always going to have a good night, every team has been in a match where literally nothing they do seems to be working. Regardless, you have to find a way to win. Juniata did that, and so they remain undefeated.
Harvey: I think Juniata was coming down off a bit of an emotional high after the midweek win over Messiah. There were a lot of Pennsylvania guys on the floor in that match, so the rivalry was as much personal as it was program.
Marymount is well coached and has been playing with a chip on their shoulder so far this year. You can see Coach Liberto’s squad leveraging the experience they’ve gained from early season matches already. They may not be a contender for the CVC title, but this match proves they can play spoiler all year long.
Lindsay: My biggest takeaway from this match is Marymount getting production from some new guys. Like Harvey said, maybe they’re not winning the CVC this year…or maybe they are, we don’t know, but it could be a shorter path back to contention.
Outside of the top two teams matches, what results from this weekend should we take notice of?
Ramius: Messiah’s 5-set win over New Paltz is the big one to me, as it adds another quality win to their resume. The Falcons currently have wins over Mount Union, Carthage, Rutgers-Newark, and New Paltz. These teams are all going to be in the conversation once regional rankings are being discussed in March, this is huge given Messiah has to contend with Stevens for a MAC Championship. If the season ended today the Falcons are looking good for an at-large bid (caution, the season does not end today and there is TONS of volleyball left to be played).
Harvey: Possibly a bit under the radar, North Central absolutely drubbed Concordia Wisconsin during the midweek and then followed it up with a smooth win over Benedictine. Hitting .494 in the sweep of CUW followed by two sets wins where Ben U didn’t break 18. Exline’s squad is finding its stride.
Lindsay: I had some big words for Mount Union last week and that didn’t really work out like I expected. They dropped to both Fisher and Naz. They’re probably the favorite still in their conference but they didn’t do themselves any favors for seeding if they make it to the tourney. Nichols looks like they can really challenge Endicott for the NECC title after beating Lasell. St Joes showed us last year that if you get into the tourney, you can make noise. Maybe Nichols is the 2023 version.
What matches do you have on your radar this week, and who might be on upset alert?
Ramius: Vassar hosts Springfield on Thursday in Poughkeepsie. The Pride have endured some growing pains this year and still remain one of the best teams in the country. Vassar has been building some momentum towards this match and have the pieces to over power them. I’ll have this one on my big screen.
I’m going to say St. John Fisher (favorite) versus Nazareth (underdog) has upset potential. Anything can happen in conference play, and the UVC is going to be incredibly contested this year given the talent level of the conference.
Harvey: I have to stop being the last one to log on! All the good answers are taken. I’ll tout the Juniata vs. SVU match as my match to watch and upset alert. Southern Virginia always gets up against JC but we will see how they handle playing outside the barn.
I’d also keep an eye on Elmira and NYU. Purple reign will be following, just a matter of who is victorious.
Lindsay: NYU vs Stevens. I saw some really good things from the Violets over the weekend. I think they have as good as odds as anyone to win the UVC. There were a lot of questions last year if the UVC was still the best conference with the CVC playing so well, but I think the re-emergence of NYU coupled with Naz being undefeated makes the conference deadly. NYU plays almost exclusively quality opponents the next two months, so at least we will see how they stack up.
UCSC vs. North Central on Friday should be fun too. I’m watching the setting matchup in this one. We’re getting our first real look at Tyler Donovan and the junior hasn’t disappointed. Leo Tuncer/Mohan Duvvuri for Santa Cruz gives them some flexibility. Maybe they need to play the matchup game against Jared Moser.
Who’s your personal top 5?
Ramius: 1) Juniata 2) Stevens 3) Vassar 4) Springfield 5) Carthage
Harvey: 1) Juniata 2) Stevens 3) St. John Fisher 4) Springfield 5) Carthage
Lindsay: 1) Juniata 2) Springfield 3) Stevens 4) Carthage 5) St John Fisher