2014 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Season Preview

Look for these top programs to dominate this season.
Look for these top programs to dominate this season.

Regardless of which teams thrive or fail, 2014 will be a historic season for NCAA men’s volleyball. Conference Carolinas will join the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA), and Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) as the fourth men’s volleyball conference eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and for the first time, six teams will qualify for the post-season, the four automatic qualifiers plus two at-large bids. The tournament will feature a pair of play-in matches before the final four. The 2014 season will also see UC Irvine vie for their third consecutive national championship, and Pacific University men’s volleyball program will compete in their 22nd and final season before disbanding due to budget cuts. To help you prepare for the excitement of the season, VBM has chosen our top 10 teams to watch.

BYU

2013 Record: 26-5
2013 Postseason: NCAA Finalist
Head Coach: Chris McGown (50-12, third season)
Key Returners: Michael Hatch (So., MB), Jaylen Reyes (Jr., L), Josue Rivera (Jr., OH), Taylor Sander (Sr., OH), Devin Young (Sr., MB)
Key Losses: Ryan Boyce (S), Russ Lavaja (MB), Ben Patch (Opp.)
Key Newcomers: Bennett Bird (Fr., OH), Lucas Coleman (Fr., OH), Tim Dobbert (Fr., Opp.), Joseph Grosh (Fr., MB), Carson Heninger (So., Opp.), Price Jarman (Fr., MB), Jake Langlois (Fr., MB), Kiril Meretev (Fr., OH)
Notes on BYU: For the Cougars to finish what they started last season and earn an NCAA Championship title, returners and newcomers alike must step up and embrace new roles. BYU loses three key offensive players in AVCA Second Team All-American Lavaja (166k, 113b); VBM Freshman of the Year, AVCA Newcomer of the Year, and First Team All-American Patch (418k, 126b, 101b); and starting setter Boyce (1,160a, 161d). AVCA First Team All-American and VBM and MPSF Player of the Year Sander (461k, 178d, 93b) is back to lead the offense, while Rivera (228k, 123d, 84b) returns as a consistent all-around contributor. BYU should continue to excel defensively behind the blocking of Young (104k, 81b) and court defense of Reyes (169d). Several newcomers, including transfer Heninger, could step in and contribute immediately.
Coach on the team: “Certainly we’ll need to fill some big holes in the middle, setting, and opposite positions, but we have a group of excellent athletes competing for those spots. We’ve liked the contributions our incoming freshmen have made to our team dynamic.”
International Affair: Five members of the Cougar squad hail from around the globe: Lucas Coleman and Carson Heninger (Canada), Tim Dobbert (Germany), Kiril Meretev (Bulgaria), and Josue Rivera (Puerto Rico).

LEWIS

2013 Record: 20-10
2013 Postseason: MIVA Finalist
Head Coach: Dan Friend (330-189, 17th season)
Key Returners: BJ Boldog (RS Sr., S), Eric Butch (RS Jr., OH), Eric Fitterer (Jr., Opp.), Greg Petty (Jr., OH), Geoff Powell (RS Jr., OH), Bobby Walsh (So., MB), Yiwei Zhou (Sr., MB)
Key Losses: Jay Petty (OH)
Key Newcomers: Tom Beckmann (Fr., Opp.), JB Brinkerhoff (Fr., OH), John Hodul (Fr., MB), Connor Lammey (Fr., MB), Gert Lisha (Fr., S), Kyle Rohde (RS Fr., OH), Riley Rutan (RS Fr., OH), Jacob Schmiegelt (RS Fr., MB), Lucas Yanez (Jr., L)
Notes on Lewis: With five starters returning from last season’s MIVA finalist squad, the Flyers have the leadership and talent to claim the conference title and post a tournament berth in 2014. AVCA Second Team All-American Boldog (1,101a) is back for his final campaign and will rely on fellow Second Team All-American Powell (385k, 173d, 75b) to pace the offense. A new outside will be called on to step up and replace Jay Petty (285k, 183d, 74b). That new outside could very well be his younger brother Greg Petty (57k, 36d, 28b), who saw action in 20 of 30 matches last season. The Flyers will once again look to middles Zhou (102k, 100b) and Walsh (174k, 133b) along with opposite Fitterer (257k, 116d, 71b) for strong blocking and consistent offensive numbers.
Coach on the team: “This year’s team is in a great mental and physical place. There is a sense of maturity and experience that I believe will help us as the season gets long and grueling.”
Frequent Flyers: Of the 24 team members, only 10 are Illinois natives. The roster features players from New York (1), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (1), Florida (2), California (3), Missouri (2), Wisconsin (1), Washington (1), and China (1).

LONG BEACH STATE

2013 Record: 24-8
2013 Postseason: MPSF Finalist
Head Coach: Alan Knipe (193-111, 11th season)
Key Returners: Dalton Ammerman (Sr., OH), Taylor Crabb (Sr., OH), Taylor Gregory (So., MB), Connor Olbright (Sr., S), Jeff Ornee (Sr., MB), Andrew Sato (So., L), Ian Satterfield (Sr., Opp.)
Key Losses: Colten Echave (MB)
Key Newcomers: Matt Butler (Fr., S), Jorge Cabrera (Jr., OH/Opp.), Eric Ensing (RS Fr., OH/Opp.), Zach Gates (Fr., Opp.), Cody Martin (So., OH), Curtis Stallings (Fr., S), Scott Stephanoff (Fr., Opp), Chris van Vuuren (RS Jr., OH), Bryce Yould (Fr., MB)
Notes on Long Beach State: Long Beach State tabbed a 24-8 record and MPSF championship berth last season in a campaign that stands out as the program’s best since 2008. The 49ers return a veteran squad, including AVCA National Player of the Year/First Team All-American Crabb (502k, 209d, 72b) and Second Team All-American Olbright (1336a). Long Beach State loses half of their middle tandem with the graduation of Echave (187k, 107b), but last season’s top blocker Gregory (130k, 156b) returns to the net. Ammerman (333k, 176d, 71b) and Satterfield (137k, 86d, 42b) provide depth and additional scoring options for this stacked 49ers’ squad, while Sato (209d) is back to pace the court defense.
Coach on the schedule: “We have scheduled a few international matches early in January, the UCSB Tournament, and our mid-season tournament in March. All of these non-conference matches will provide us great opportunities to prepare for the grind of the MPSF.”
Grow the Game: Long Beach State’s libero Andrew Sato is the son of Gary Sato, who early last year was named head coach of the Japanese Men’s National Team.

LOYOLA UNIVERSITY-CHICAGO

2013 Record: 22-10
2013 Postseason: NCAA Semifinalist
Head Coach: Shane Davis (208-85, 11th season)
Key Returners: Dainis Berzins (Sr., OH), Cody Caldwell (Jr., OH), Peter Hutz (So., S), Thomas Jaeschke (So., OH), Peter Jasaitis (RS Sr., L), Trevor Novotny (So., OH), Nicholas Olson (So., MB), Diego Rodriguez (So., S), Joseph Smalzer (RS Sr., Opp.)
Key Losses: Eric Daliege (MB), Jeff Patton (OH)
Key Newcomers: Jagger Kroener (Fr., L), Owen McAndrews (RS Fr., MB), Brandon Palmer (Fr., MB)
Notes on Loyola: Men’s volleyball is gaining momentum in the Midwest and this Loyola squad promises to keep the trend going. Last season, the Ramblers earned their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance and finished the season ranked ninth in the AVCA Coaches Poll. The Ramblers return their top offensive weapons from last season: First Team All-American Smalzer (430k, 160d, 69b) and Jaeschke (344k, 162d, 157b). Hutz (678a) and Rodriguez (541a) bring experience to the setting position, while Jasaitis (229d) is back to lead the court defense. Loyola lost last season’s top blocker in Daliege (155k, 110b), but Olson (145k, 95b) should be ready to take over that role after a breakout freshman campaign.
Coach on the schedule: “We’re trying something different with having West Coast teams come to our gym instead of us making the trip out there to begin the season. I think it’s great to get high-caliber teams in our arena so our fans can see us compete against them.”
Berzins Bros: For the past six years, Loyola’s roster has featured a Berzins brother. Kris Berzins competed for the Ramblers from 2007-10 and is currently one of their assistant coaches. His younger brother, Dainis Berzins, joined Loyola’s roster in 2011.

PENN STATE

2013 Record: 23-8
2013 Postseason: NCAA Semifinalist
Head Coach: Mark Pavlik (460-134,
20th season)
Key Returners: Connor Curry (RS Jr., L), Taylor Hammond (RS So., S), Aaron Russell (Jr. MB), Peter Russell (Sr., OH), Matt Seifert (RS So., MB)
Key Losses: Tom Comfort (Opp.), Nick Turko (MB)
Key Newcomers: Aiden Albrecht (Fr., Opp.), Matt Callaway (RS Fr., MB/Opp.), Joey Farrell (Fr., OH), Kevin Gear (Fr., MB), Chris Nugent (Fr., OH), Jalen Penrose (Fr., OH), Andrew Roberts (RS Fr., Opp.), Spencer Sauter (RS Fr., OH)
Notes on Penn State: Expect another postseason run from this young, improving team. The Nittany Lions return five players from their 23-8, NCAA Semifinalist squad and bring in a slew of newcomers. Penn State will have to account for the loss of Turko (81k, 66b) and Comfort (185k, 37b), but returning players in critical positions will ease the transition as new players step up and fill those roles. Aaron Russell (366k, 180d, 47b) is back to pace the offense after leading Penn State in kills last season. The Nittany Lions also return top-blocker Seifert (163k, 77b). Curry (259d) will continue to frustrate opponents with his scrappy defense, while Hammond (1,172a) is back to quarterback the offense.
Coach on the team: “This year our starters will be youthfully experienced, but our depth is going to be inexperienced, so I think it’s going to be a situation where this team is really going to gel about a month or two into the season when we really get used to what we’re facing.”
Unstoppable: Penn State tabbed their 15th-straight EIVA championship title last season. The Nittany Lions now have 25 EIVA titles to their name.

PEPPERDINE

2013 Record: 14-12
2013 Postseason: MPSF Quarterfinalist
Head Coach: Marv Dunphy (546-241, 31st season)
Key Returners: Nikola Antonijevic (Jr., MB), Parker Kalmbach (RS Jr., MB), Ryan Plueger (Sr., L), Matt Tarantino (RS So., MB/Opp.), Josh Taylor (Jr., OH), Matt West (Jr., S)
Key Losses: Maurice Torres (Opp.)
Key Newcomers: Brennan Anderson (Jr., L), Soren Dion-Kindem (Fr., S), James Gehrels (Fr., OH), Chad McCallister (Fr., L), Mitchell Penning (Fr., MB), Max States (Fr., OH)
Notes on Pepperdine: The Waves boast an experienced, upperclassmen-dominated squad. Five starters return from last season’s 14-12 team along with Ohio State transfer Anderson, who set the Buckeyes’ record for average career digs and single-season digs. In addition, MPSF All-Freshman Team selection Tarantino returns to the court after redshirting last season. First Team All-American West (1,114a) will continue to orchestrate the offense, while last season’s top blocker Kalmbach (173k, 121b) is back to defend the net. With the graduation of kills leader Torres (417k, 82b, 154d), the Waves will likely call on Taylor (305k, 123d, 58b) to carry the offense. Plueger (148d) returns as a feisty backcourt defender.
Coach on the team: “We have to contend with the loss of Maurice Torres, who led our team in kills and aces during his four years here. If we can stay healthy, I think we will be in the thick of it.”
Making Olympic Waves: Pepperdine has been represented on the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team every quad since 1984.

STANFORD

2013 Record: 15-13
2013 Postseason: N.A.
Head Coach: John Kosty (121-82, eighth season)
Key Returners: Brian Cook (Sr., OH), Grant Delgado (RS Jr., L), Denny Falls (Sr., MB), Spencer Haly (Jr., MB), Madison Hayden (So., OH), Steven Irvin (Sr., OH), Eric Mochalski (Sr., MB/Opp.), Scott Sakaida (RS Jr., L), James Shaw (So., S/OH), Daniel Tublin (RS Jr., OH)
Key Losses: Jake Kneller (OH)
Key Newcomers: Cole Fiers (Fr., S), Clay Jones (Fr., OH), Colin McCall (Fr., OH), Kevin Rakestraw (Fr., MB)
Notes on Stanford: An experienced Stanford squad will take the court this winter. Ten of 16 returners saw significant court time last season, including All-Americans Cook (First Team, 417k, 148d, 62b) and Irvin (Second Team, 344k, 183d, 45b). The Cardinal lost a valuable role player in Kneller (69k, 96d, 25b) but should be able to compensate for the loss with their deep bench and strong incoming class. Blocking leader Mochalski (179k, 88b) returns to defend the net, while Delgado (146d) brings experience to the backcourt. Shaw (1,027a) will likely continue to start at setter, but could be called on to hit as well. Add four talented newcomers to the mix and the 2014 Cardinal squad is poised to contend with the best.
Coach on the team: “I would describe this version of the Cardinal as skilled, athletic, and experienced. We have two strong setters that can now be considered veterans and a solid core of outsides and opposites that are fairly interchangeable.”
Worst to First: Since taking over as head coach in 2007, John Kosty has completely transformed the Stanford men’s volleyball program. He took the Cardinal from a three-win season in 2007 to an NCAA Championship title in 2010.

UC IRVINE

2013 Record: 25-7
2013 Postseason: NCAA Champions
Head Coach: David Kniffin (25-7, second season)
Key Returners: Michael Brinkley (Jr., L), Jeremy Dejno (Sr., OH), Connor Hughes (Sr., OH), Scott Kevorken (Sr., MB), Zack La Cavera (Jr., Opp.), Collin Mehring (Sr., MB), Daniel Stork (Sr., S), Travis Woloson (Jr., OH)
Key Losses: Chris Austin (S), Kevin Tillie (OH)
Key Newcomers: Andrew Benz (Fr., MB), Reid Dominguez (Fr., OH), Phillip Friedman (Fr., OH), Tamir Hershko (Fr., Opp.), Dillon Hoffman (Fr., L), Tucker Pikula (Fr., OH), Michael Saeta (Fr., Opp.), Ben Sebastian (Fr., MB), Austin Vaickus (Fr., Opp.), Marius Wollan (Fr., OH)
Notes on UC Irvine: In his first year at the helm, Kniffin led the Anteaters to their second consecutive NCAA championship title. This season, 10 letterwinners and nine newcomers take the court to vie for a three-peat. AVCA First Team All-American Brinkley (290d) returns to pace the defense, while AVCA Second Team All-American Mehring (188k, 134b) along with Kevorken (178k, 122b) and La Cavera (280k, 112d, 69b) add experience to the front line. UC Irvine lost key offensive players with the graduation of Austin (611a) and AVCA First Team All-American Tillie (395k, 64b, 179d), so returning outsides Dejno (241k, 80d, 64b) and Hughes (195k, 92d, 55b) will need to step up and carry more of the offensive load. Stork (737a) will likely remain in the conversation for starting setter.
Coach on the team: “The competitive objective to win a national championship remains the same, but it will be a different journey. The dynamics have shifted, but the sum of the parts is equal to last year.”
League-Of-Almost-His-Own: In the 44-year history of NCAA men’s volleyball, David Kniffin is the second head coach to claim the national title in his first season.

UCLA

2013 Record: 21-11
2013 Postseason: MPSF Semifinalist
Head Coach: John Speraw (21-11, second season)
Key Returners: Trent Kersten (RS So., MB), Steve O’Dell (So., S), Robart Page (Sr., OH), Clayton Paullin (RS Jr., MB), Gonzalo Quiroga (Sr., OH), Spencer Rowe (Sr., MB)
Key Losses: Connor Bannan (S), Evan Mottram (L), Dane Worley (OH)
Key Newcomers: Jackson Bantle (Fr., OH), Grant Chalmers (Fr., L), Oliver Martin (Fr., OH), Jake Reeves (Fr., S), Hagen Smith (Fr., S), Eric Sprague (Fr., MB), Mitch Stahl (Fr., MB)
Notes on UCLA: The Bruins spent last season adjusting to a new coaching staff, but the future is bright for this talented squad. UCLA returns six key members of their MPSF semifinalist squad and brings in arguably the strongest recruiting class in the country, including two of the nation’s top-five recruits (according to VBM’s Fab 50) in Stahl and Martin. AVCA First Team All-American Quiroga (420k, 146d, 58b) along with Page (356k, 162d, 56b) are back to pace the offense, while AVCA Second-Team All American Rowe (213k, 112) returns as a force at the net. The defensive contribution of AVCA Second Team All-American Mottram (267d) and consistent offensive production of Worley (307k, 160d, 52b) will be missed, but UCLA’s deep roster should be able to pick up the slack.
Coach on the schedule: “We’ve got a great schedule this season, particularly in the pre-conference season where we’ll travel to the Santa Barbara tournament and the Outrigger Hotels Invitational. These events will give us an opportunity to try different lineup combinations as well as expose our team to playing away from home. With eight new players, competition on the road is invaluable.
Red, White, and Bruin: Bruins’ head coach John Speraw also leads the U.S. Men’s National Team. Talk about a jam-packed schedule.

USC

2013 Record: 6-18
2013 Postseason: N.A.
Head Coach: Bill Ferguson (115-82, eighth season)
Key Returners: Joey Booth (RS Jr., OH), Henry Cassiday (Sr., L/OH), Micah Christenson (Jr., S), Robert Feathers (Jr., MB), Tanner Jansen (RS Sr., Opp.), Cristian Rivera (Jr., OH/Opp.),
Key Losses: J.B. Green (L), Ben Lam (MB), Chris Trefzger (S)
Key Newcomers: Andy Benesh (Fr., MB), Riley Mallon (Fr., L/OH), Jack Yoder (Fr., S), Lucas Yoder (Fr., OH)
Notes on USC: After spending the 2013 season rebuilding and developing young players, USC should be back on the national radar in 2014. The Trojans will have to replace role players in Lam (57K, 41b), Trefzger (100a), and Green (45d), but world-class setter Christenson (867a) is back to run the show. Christenson isn’t just a phenomenal setter: he also led the team in digs (179) and aces (41) in 2013. Also back is top hitter Jansen (241k, 65d, 48b) and blocker Feathers (170k, 76b), along with starting libero Cassiday (108d). Add in the consistent play of Rivera (193k, 66d, 32b) and Booth (156k, 59d, 19b) and a smattering of talented newcomers, and this USC squad is poised for a breakout season.
Coach on the team: “Our expectation for the 2014 season is that we will finish with a record closer to what we had in 2012, when we advanced to the NCAA final four for the third time in a four-year span.”
What I Did Over My Summer Vacation (And Fall Semester): Junior setter Micah Christenson spent his summer (and fall) setting for the U.S. Men’s National Team. He could very well be on the court in the next Olympics.

Player of the Year Candidates

Three names consistently came to the forefront when discussing the nation’s top players.

Micah Christenson
Jr., S, 6'5", USC, Honolulu, Hawaii
Arguably the best setter in the nation, Christenson led a rebuilding USC squad to a .228 hitting efficiency last season. He nabbed Second Team All-MPSF honors and led the Trojans with 867 assists, 179 digs, and 41 aces. His 59 total blocks were good for second best on the team. Christenson spent his summer competing with the U.S. Men’s National Team. He set the national team to a first-place finish at the NORCECA Continental Championship and a fifth-place finish in the FIVB Grand Champions Cup in Japan.

Taylor Crabb
Sr., OH, 6'0", Long Beach State, Honolulu, Hawaii
Crabb earned his first-ever All-American recognition in 2013 when he stormed onto the scene and claimed AVCA First Team All-American and Player of the Year honors. The outside hitter was an instrumental part of the 49ers’ 24-8 season and MPSF championship appearance. Ranked third in the nation with 4.18 kills per set, Crabb blasted 20 or more kills in eight matches last season. His .353 hitting percentage was in the top-10 nationwide. Also a strong defender, Crabb posted 209 digs, good for second best on his team, and 72 blocks.

Taylor Sander
Sr., OH, 6'4", BYU, Huntington Beach, Calif.
An AVCA First Team All-American and MPSF and VBM Player of the Year in 2013, Sander led his BYU squad to an MPSF conference title and NCAA championship appearance. The three-time All-American notched a team-high 461 kills on 947 attempts for a .333 hitting efficiency. His 3.94 kills per set rank fifth best in the nation, and he posted 20 kills or more in five matches. He also posted a team best 178 digs (1.52 digs per set) and tabbed 93 blocks and 42 service aces.

Originally published in February 2014

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