This year’s VolleyballMag.com men’s college recruiting class rankings voting felt like a high-stakes horserace with the result not determined until right before the finish line.
In a photo finish, USC edged UC Santa Barbara and Hawai’i for the top spot in this year’s rankings, which are voted on solely by an elite panel of NCAA Division I-II men’s coaches. As always, the rankings take into account incoming freshmen, new international players and transfers.
Adding to the intrigue is this is the largest voting panel for these rankings in at least a decade. And because of that, ranking positions changed daily with the top-five teams playing musical chairs at various points as folks voiced varying opinions on who should be ranked where. Another way to look at it: Everybody got their hands on tons of talent in this class.
How close was the polling? One voting point separated USC from Santa Barbara and two points separated Santa Barbara from the Rainbow Warriors for the second spot.
All three schools have a legitimate claim to the top spot (more on that in a moment).
The spread from USC to No. 4 Loyola Chicago was but five voting points and the margin from USC to No. 5 Long Beach State was eight points.
Four teams (USC, Hawai’i, UCSB and Long Beach State) received first-place votes with USC and Hawai’i tying for the most first-place ballots.
USC was the runner-up to UCLA last year in the rankings and had recent high finishes of the No. 9 class in 2021 and the No. 3 class in 2017. The Trojans’ class is headlined by No. 1-ranked recruit Wes Smith.
Santa Barbara and long-time coach Rick McLaughlin finished ninth in the rankings in 2022, shooting all the way up to No. 2 this season, punctuated by the additions of No. 2 recruit George Bruening and No. 3 recruit Josh Aruya.
National runner-up Hawai’i has camped out in the top 10 of late with placements of tie-10 (2022), ninth (2020), eighth (2019) and seventh (2018). Charlie Wade’s crew loaded up with incoming freshmen, grad transfers and international additions, plus news that SoCal youth standout Tread Rosenthal, from Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach, reclassified to a 2023 graduate and becomes part of this class.
Again, each of USC, Santa Barbara and Hawai’i have a legitimate claim to the crown with USC sporting a difference-maker in Smith, the Gauchos boasting two of the top-five recruits in the country and Hawai’i filling the gas tank in all phases to make another run at an NCAA title.
Loyola Chicago, which probably had the least EKG-readout-look of the top-tier schools in the rankings, checks in at No. 4 with eight of its 10 freshmen recruits appearing on our 2023 Boys Fab 50 list.
No. 5 Long Beach State, like UCLA, has lived in the penthouse of these rankings for quite some time now, taking the top spot in 2020 and 2021, placing third in 2022 and 2019, and logging a fifth-place ranking in 2017. This time, the Beach nicely spanned the gamut of transfers (Ohio State’s 6-11 Ben Braun), international and true freshmen players.
UCLA, owner of last year’s top recruiting class and the defending national champion, checks in at No. 6. The Bruins also earned the top spot in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and took second in 2020 and 2021.
Pepperdine clocks in at No. 7 for a second year in a row, following up on strong placements of fifth in 2021, seventh in 2020, fourth in 2019 and third in 2018.
The rest of this year’s top 10 features UC Irvine at No. 8, Princeton at No. 9 and Ohio State at No. 10. Lewis and George Mason each missed the top 10 by a single point and have strong cases for belonging in that grouping, based on solid incoming U.S.-based freshmen classes. Penn State and Ball State also fared well among voters and lead the honorable-mention listings.
1. USC Trojans
Who is new: Wesley Smith, 6-10, MB, Fresh., La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, California), Jack Ebertin 6-5, OH, Fresh., Saint Francis, (Mountain View, California), Jakobi Lange, 6-4, OH, Fresh., Hinsdale (Illinois) Central, Brad Pan, 5-8, Libero, Fresh., Cupertino (California), Josh Friedman, 6-3, S, Transfer, (University of Hawai’i, Orange Coast College)
Worth noting: Smith is the No. 1 recruit in the country based on voting in the previously released 2023 VolleyballMag.com Boys Fab 50 with one voter singling him out as the reason for their high Trojan ranking in this class.
Ebertin, Lange and Pan are also 2023 Fab 50 picks, while Friedman of Newport Beach, California, and Corona del Mar High School, spent his sophomore year at Hawai’i and previously helped Orange Coast to a California community college state team. He redshirted his 2021 season due to the COVID shutdown.
2. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
Who is new: George Bruening, 6-8, OH-RS, Fresh., Corona del Mar (Newport Beach, California), Josh Aruya, 6-8, MB, Fresh., Mission Viejo (California), Alex Smits-Van Oyen, 6-5, S, Fresh., Coronado (California), Joe Wallace, DS, Soph., Saint Francis (Mountain View, California)/Orange Coast College
Worth noting: Bruening is the No. 2 recruit in the 2023 class, while Aruya was voted the No. 3 recruit. Smits-Van Oyen is also a Fab 50 selection, while Wallace, who name dotted these screens during his high school and club careers, transferred in from Orange Coast College. “I believe this 2023 recruiting class is our best ever,” UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin said. “George Bruening, Josh Aruya and Alex Smits-Van Oyen are all very talented and probably at the top of their position as far as potential goes. Joe Wallace played for a very good Bay to Bay club team a year ago and spent his first year in college at Orange Coast gray-shirting. All four of these guys will make an immediate impact and will have a strong shot at starting.”
3. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors
Who is new: Aleksa Mandic, 6-5, OH-RS, Fresh., Belgrade (Serbia) School of Medicine, Kai Rodriguez, 6-4, OH, Fresh., Moanalua (Honolulu, Hawai’i), Ryan Sears, 5-11, Libero, Fresh., Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, California), Justin Todd, 6-8, OH, Fresh., Moanalua (Honolulu, Hawai’i), Zack Yewchuk, 6-7, RS, Fresh., Moanalua (Honolulu, Hawai’i), Kevin Kauling, 6-8, S, Graduate, Lewis University, Oguzhan Oguz, 6-8, RS, Soph., University of Jamestown, Zachary Thompson, 6-4, MB-RS, Graduate, UC Santa Cruz, Tread Rosenthal, 6-8, S, Fresh., Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, California)
Worth noting: Rodriguez, Sears and Todd were VolleyballMag.com Boys Fab 50 selections. Rodriguez (from Gilroy, California), Todd (from Houston, Texas) and Yewchuk (from Surrey, British Columbia) all played for the Moanalua High School team in Honolulu last season. In addition to a strong freshmen class, that includes international freshman Mandic from Serbia, Hawai’i adds grad transfers in Kauling (Lewis) and Thompson (UC Santa Cruz), plus inbound sophomore Oguz, who hails from Türkiye and played for the Jimmies of the University of Jamestown (North Dakota) last season. The other key is the addition of youth standout Rosenthal, who reclassified to become a 2023 high school graduate. He was on the 2023 VolleyballMag.com 25 underlcassmen to watch list. “When you look at the transfers (Kauling, Oguz and Thompson), the high school all-Americans, Aleksa Mandic (captain of the Serbian U22 team who was first in serving and third in scoring at the CEV U22 qualifier this summer) and Tread Rosenthal reclassifying to become a 2023 graduate, it’s quite a haul,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade said. “There is a lot to like about our incoming class. We added some quality depth in the high school all-Americans and Ryan Sears is a good player with national team training experience. Having to replace player of the year Jakob Thelle, we bring in two setters who would start for a lot of teams and are proven elite-level players in Tread Rosenthal and Kevin Kauling. Aleska Mandic is going to be an outstanding player for us and will contribute immediately. His serve alone will be among the best in the country. And Oguzhan, after one year in the U.S., is ready to make the move to contribute at the Division I level.”
4. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Who’s new: Lukas Anderson, 6-4, RS, Fresh., Loyola (Los Angeles, California), Cole Everette, 6-7, MB, Fresh., Nordhoff (Ojai, California), Daniel Fabikovic, 6-6, OH, Fresh., Czech Republic, Tyler Howard, 6-4, OH, Fresh., Canyon (Anaheim, California), Aidan Klein, 6-9, MB, Fresh., Evanston (Illinois) Township, Charlie Ledford, 6-2, Libero, Fresh., Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, California), Gavin O’Brien, 6-8, MB, Fresh., Neuqua Valley (Naperville, Illinois), Liam Phinizy, 6-6, OH, Huntington Beach (California), Jake Read, 6-4, OH, Fresh., Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, California), Cole Schobel (6-1, S, Fresh., Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California)
Worth noting: A lot to like here with this Ramblers’ class that is 10 players deep. Eight of the nine U.S.-based freshmen players are 2023 VolleyballMag.com Boys Fab 50 selections, while Everette was an all-CIF Southern Section selection as a senior at Nordhoff High School in Ojai, California. Fabikovic helped the U18 Czech Republic national team earn a silver medal at the European championships. “We addressed every position on our roster,” Loyola coach John Hawks said. “I believe we also added high-IQ winners along with the top setter in the class (Schobel). On top of that, we added two terrific middle blockers from Chicago and an international talent from the Czech Republic in Daniel Fabikovic. This is a very solid class.” Schobel was the No. 5-ranked recruit in the 2023 Boys Fab 50 rankings.
5. Long Beach State 49ers
Who’s new: Nate Baddeley, 6-5, OH, Fresh., Los Alamitos (California), Lazar Bouchkov, 6-6, MB, Fresh., Sofia (Bulgaria), Ty Carson, 6-4, OH, Fresh., Aliso Niguel (Aliso Viejo, California), Danill Hershtynovich, 6-9, RS, Fresh., Toronto (Canada), Aidan Powell, 6-2, OH, Fresh., Fairmont Prep Academy (Anaheim, California), Sebastiano Sani, 6-8, OH, Fresh., Walther Johnson (Bethesda, Maryland), Ben Braun, 6-11, MB, Soph., Transfer, Ohio State
Worth noting: An interesting class here that will bolster the 49ers. The 6-11 Braun transferred from Ohio State where he played in 16 matches last year. Bouchkov was the starting middle on the Bulgaria U21 team, while Hershtynovich played opposite on the Canadian U21 team. In terms of the incoming freshmen, Sani was a 2023 Boys Fab 50 selection. Baddeley played with the Team Rockstar club in Southern California, while Carson is a product of the 949 club. Powell played at Farimont Prep Academy in Anaheim, California.
6. UCLA Bruins
Who’s new: Luca Curci, 6-3, OH, Fresh., Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, California), Micah Wong Diallo, 6-8, MB, L.A. Marshall (Los Angeles, California), Spencer Graves, 6-5, MB, Fresh., Loyola (Los Angeles, California), Jaidin Russell, 6-5, RS, Fresh., Newton South (Newton, Massachusetts), Thiago Zamprogno, 6-7, MB, Fresh., Cardinal Gibbons (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida), David Flores, 6-1, S, Redshirt Senior, Ball State transfer, Hide Nakamura, 5-10, Libero, Soph., Orange Coast College.
Worth noting: Let’s start with the incoming freshmen. Curci and Graves are highly decorated SoCal youth standouts and both 2023 Boys Fab 50 selections, while Zamprogno was a standout at both the high school and club levels in south Florida — also a Fab 50 selection. Curci is the No. 4-ranked recruit in the class (via Fab 50 voting). Russell makes the trek cross country after success in Massachusetts. Russell and Wong Diallo give 2023 national-chamoion UCLA a total of five Fab 50 picks in this class, which also includes Ball State transfer Flores and Nakamura, who played previously at Orange Coast College, a JUCO in Costa Mesa, California, that is a consistent presence in this year’s recruiting class rankings.
7. Pepperdine Waves
Who’s new: Jack Graves, 6-4, OH, Fresh., Beckman (Irvine, California), Ryan Graves, 6-4, S, Fresh., Beckman (Irvine, California), Matt Mazur, 6-9, RS, Fresh., Lancaster (New York), Tyler Stewart, 6-5, S, Fresh., Prospect Ridge Academy (Broomfield, Colorado), Ilay Harver, 6-2, OH, Fresh., Israel, Alex Mrkali, 6-5, OH, Graduate, Princeton, Martin De Chavarria, 6-7, MB, Graduate, NJIT, Cole Ketrzynski, 6-7, OH-RS, Graduate, UCLA
Worth noting: Another class you shouldn’t sleep on. The Graves twins, from Irvine, along with Mazur and Stewart are all 2023 Boys Fab 50 selections. Mrkali and De Chavarria are in from EIVA schools Princeton and NJIT, respectively, and Canada native Ketrzynski played previously at UCLA and earned all-American honors there. Haver, from Israel, is headed to Malibu in January, the school’s sports information office noted. “I like our class a lot,” Waves coach Jonathan Winder said. “Probably the best overall class here in a long time with the mix of five freshmen and three grad transfers. We will likely have four new starters in this group. Ilay Haver is an outside for the Israel national team competing in the European championships this fall before coming to us. We add two high-level U.S. setters in Ryan Graves and Tyler Stewart, who have experience in the national team development pipeline, plus two good hitters with great long-term promise in Matt Mazur from New York and Jack Graves from Irvine.
“The transfers are led by Cole, who is coming here for his post-graduate degree. He’s an elite outside hitter who will be looking to make a mark in Malibu. Martin has experience on the Spanish national team as a middle blocker and will help us out tremendously. Alex can play both on the right and left to help our team immensely. I think our group is among the best in the country from immediate impact to long-term impact.”
8. UC Irvine Anteaters
Who’s new: Shane Aiken, 6-0, Libero, Fresh., St. Margaret’s (San Clemente, California), Kobe Brown, 6-9, RS, Fresh., Technology (Rohnert Park, California), Nicolas Restrepo, 6-10, MB, Fresh., Rancho Campana (Camarillo, California), Aidan Rigg, 6-6, S-RS, Fresh., Punahou (Honolulu, Hawai’i), Nolan Flexen, 6-9, OH, Jr., Transfer The Master’s University, Andon Kiriakou, 6-1, OH-S, Fresh., Uxbridge Secondary (Ontario), Brett Sheward, 6-2, S, Graduate, Hawai’i.
Worth noting: Five incoming freshmen and two transfers make up this top-10 recruiting class for coach David Kniffin. Flexen earned AVCA and NAIA player of the year honors at The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California, where he led all NAIA players in kills per set, hitting percentage (.451) and points per set (5.9), while setting a school record with 424 kills. Sheward was part of the Hawai’i teams that won NCAA titles in 2021 and 2022 and was the primary libero on Big West title teams in 2022 and 2023. Aitken was a member of St. Margaret’s 2022 CIF title team and CIF regional semifinal squad in 2023, and also won a gold and two bronze medals at junior nationals with the A4 and 949 club teams. Brown played basketball at Technology High School in Rohnert Park, California, and also played for Mountain View VBC. Kiriakou led his Canadian-based Uxbridge Secondary School team to a Provincial title and was named athlete of the year in 2023. He also represented Canada at the U19 beach volleyball championships and the Commonwealth Games in Tobago. Restrepo played for Point West 118 VBC and won a bronze medal at the 18s level. Rigg did not play his senior year at Punahou due to injury, but helped the Buff n’ Blue win previous state and league titles, plus was part of an Outrigger club team that won a national title at 17s.
9. Princeton Tigers
Who’s new: James Vaccaro, 6-4, OH-S, Fresh., Bishop’s (La Jolla, California), Tristan Whitfield, 6-7, MB, Fresh., Cape Henry Collegiate (Virginia Beach, Virginia), William Gil 5-11, OH, Fresh., Goleman (Miami, Florida), Nolan Kelly 6-1, S, Fresh., El Segundo (California)
Worth noting: Whitfield recently helped lead the U.S. boys U19 national team to a fourth-place finish at the FIVB world championship in Argentina, the team’s best placement in that event ever. Vaccaro and Whitfield are Boys Fab 50 selections with Vaccaro from the San Diego area where he played with the WAVE club.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
Who’s new: Owen Pickering, 6-1, OH, Fresh., Ottawa (Ontario), Nathan Habermas, 6-7, MB, Fresh., Bloomington (Minnesota), William McElveen, 6-6, S, Fresh., Windemere (Florida), Tyler Tharpe, 6-8, RS, Fresh., Whitney Young (Chicago Illinois), Kristian Kold, 6-7, OH, Fresh., Slagelsa (Denmark), Aaron Grimm, 6-7, MB, Fresh., (Louisville, Kentucky), Thomas Leahey, 6-9, MB, Graduate, St. Francis (PA)
Worth noting: McElveen, from the Orlando area, was a VolleyballMag.com boys high school first-team All-American selection. Grimm, from Louisville, helped lead Trinity High School to the state title in 2022 and a runner-up finish in 2021. Pickering, from Ontario, helped his Ottawa Fusion club team earn a gold medal at the U18 beach Canadian championships. Tharpe was a 2023 Boys Fab 50 selection and made the all-city team for Whitney Young High School in Chicago. Habermas lettered in football and volleyball at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minnesota. Kold was part of multiple national-championship teams in Denmark, including twice winning a U14 title. Leahey transferred from St. Francis University. “This group will provide our program with a wealth of versatility, allowing us to get creative with training and lineups,” Ohio State coach Kevin Burch said. “Each of the seven incoming Buckeyes represents a different state or country. “This class represents the growth of boys volleyball in the U.S., and abroad and we couldn’t be happier to see what they accomplish here,” Burch added.
High Honorable Mention: Lewis, George Mason
High Honorable Mention notes: Lewis and George Mason each finished a point out of 10th place. Lewis, under the direction of longtime coach Dan Friend, reloaded with 12 incoming players, 11 freshmen and one transfer. The freshman crew includes Brendan Horn (6-5, OH), Quin Zilch (6-3, Libero), Luke Pekol (6-9, RS), Zach Pekol (6-9, MB), Cameron Hoying (6-8, S), Tyler Walenga (6-2, OH), Colton Mendez (6-6, OH), Hunter Cahalan (6-4, OH), Deyan Todorov (6-5, OH) and Diego Estrada (6-4, S), while Tate Sandvig (6-5, OH) is in from Mount Olive University. Hoying (Columbus, Ohio), the Pekol twins (south Chicago suburbs), Walenga (south Chicago suburbs) and Zilch (Pennsylvania) were all Boys Fab 50 selections.
George Mason and coach Jay Hosack also loaded up on incoming freshmen with Jackson Herbert (6-4, RS), Derek Nagel (6-10, RS), Sebastian Sanchez (6-6, OH), Franco Roark (6-4, OH), Blake Pohevitz (6-4, OH), Alex Wright (6-8, MB), Gabe Metcalf (6-3, S) and Robert Evangelista (6-5, OH). Evangelista (of the famed McQuaid Jesuit program in Rochester, New York), Sanchez (Orlando, Florida) and Metcalf (Flintridge, California) were Boys Fab 50 picks.
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Ball State, BYU, Charleston, Concordia-Irvine, Grand Canyon, Penn State, Stanford, UC San Diego.