EIVA preview: Penn State picked to win a league missing its two Ivy schools

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EIVA men's volleyball preview 1/18/2021-Brett Wildman-Penn State men's volleyball
Brett Wildman of Penn State hits against Ohio State's Martin Lallemand/Penn State photo by Craig Houtz

The EIVA is normally an eight-team conference, but for now just six teams will compete. That’s because the two programs in the Ivy League are sidelined by that conference. That means Princeton, which won the EIVA title in 2019, and Harvard are out.

Accordingly, the EIVA, which starts play Friday and begins conference competition February 4, has proceeded to schedule without them. In an effort to allow players a more-or-less normal 20-match season, the EIVA settled on a double-double round-robin schedule, playing each conference opponent four times, twice at home and twice away. 

The EIVA championships will feature all six teams, expanded from the usual four, and it’s scheduled for April 16-24. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA championship, scheduled to be at Ohio State. Click here for the complete EIVA schedule.

In the AVCA national preseason 15-team poll, Penn State is No. 11 and George Mason No. 13. The preseason EIVA poll saw Penn State No. 1 (five first-place votes), NJIT No. 2 (one first-place vote), George Mason third, followed by St. Francis, Charleston, and Sacred Heart.

“I think the EIVA has improved dramatically over the last few years,” Mason coach Jay Hosack said. “I think Mason, Penn State and NJIT are the three teams to beat this year in the EIVA.

“All of them have veterans at key spots and have improved their rosters with good recruiting. It will be a strong year for anyone coming out of our conference.”

Penn State coach Mark Pavlik noted that with extended eligibility in 2020 and 2021, it will change team dynamics.

“I think it’s going to be a unique year, in a lot of aspects, where it used to be coaches would say, ‘Gee, I’m sorry we won’t have you for another year,’ but now they get them for another year,” Pavlik said. “And how do you mix that into your training structures from team to team, state to state, whatever. 

“I don’t know what to expect this year. This year, for us, maybe it will be the 2021 ‘Roll with the punches’ year.”  

Our preview goes in alphabetical order with last year’s records in parentheses. For what it’s worth, in 2020 Princeton finished 9-6, 7-2 in the EIVA, and Harvard went 9-6, 3-4. While Princeton appears to have left the door open to start play later in the spring Harvard is out for this year.

Charleston (4-13, 2-6) — Mike Iandolo returns for his second season at the helm of the Golden Eagles, who return the bulk of their 2020 firepower, featuring All-EIVA honorable mention outside Lachlan Bray, a 6-5 junior from Melbourne, Australia. Bray led the squad with 166 kills, 3.32/set. Other key returners include 6-9 sophomore right side Jake Vorburger (95 kills, 2.16/set) and 6-4 senior outside Maarten Bartels (‘S-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands).

Charleston had  five seniors and three juniors from a team that beat Sacred Heart twice last season. But there is plenty of youth with five sophomores and seven freshmen.

“I am excited about this group of eight freshmen,” Iandolo said. “We have added a lot of talent and different styles of play to our roster. This is the type of group that gives our gym the necessary competitive boost to get the program to the next level.”

George Mason (10-7, 5-3) — Not only did they lose out on the second half of the season, the Patriots were slated to host the NCAA men’s championships until the pandemic intervened. 

Sixth-year head coach Hosack has a roster loaded with experience. Senior Sam Greenslade,6-7 outside from Redington Beach, Florida, led the team with 166 kills (2.60 kills/set). At the other pin, 6-6 senior Hayden Wagner (York, Pa.) returns after playing sparingly in 2020.

Both middle blockers return in 6-8 senior middle Jack Reese (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) and 6-9 senior middle Bradley Creamer (Virginia Beach, Virginia.). Reese had 118 kills, hit .428 with 60 blocks, 11 solo, while Creamer had 140 kills, hit .366, and had 41 blocks, seven solo.

Mason has four freshmen and Hosack looks for three to make an impact, 6-6 outside Omar Hoyos (Pembroke Pines, Florida.), 6-8 middle Sam Peters, (La Grange Park, Illinois) and 6-6 libero Colin Heath (Winnetka, Illinois).

“We are excited to get our top seniors back from last year’s campaign,” Hosack said. “We have strong leadership, and the guys are motivated the right way for this year. I like walking into our practices every day.”

Said Penn State’s Pavlik, for whom Hosack was a longtime assistant, “Jay will have his team ready to go. They got hit with some injuries early last year, and I don’t think they ever got the lineup on the court that Jay wanted there. They’ll be back and ready to go.”

Alvaro Gimeno

NJIT (9-5, 4-3) — The Highlanders return all seven starters, including Spanish national-teamer Alvaro Gimeno, a 6-9 outside. Gimeno, an AVCA second-team All-American and co-EIVA Player of the Year, led with 174 kills (3.62/set).

Seventh-year head coach Danny Goncalves also returns AVCA honorable mention Luca Berger, a 6-10 graduate middle  from Goiania, Brazil. Berger hit .448, tallying 1.34 kills/set with 61 blocks, six solo. 6-7 sophomore opposite Julian Meissner (Berlin, Germany) had 134 kills (2.98/set).

The freshman class includes standouts Griffin Fieseler (6-7 setter, Bound Brook, N.J.) and Nolan Wollmer (6-5 opposite, Milwaukee, Wisconsin).

“We are very fortunate to have everyone returning this year,” Goncalves said. “We’re looking forward to a very competitive season in the EIVA.”

Penn State (11-8, 7-0) — Pavlik, who enters his 27th season, has a 584-206 record. But Penn State lost eight players from last year, including 6-9 middle Jason Donorovich, an All-EIVA first-teamer.

The good news? The Nittany Lions return five starters, most who have started the bulk of the last two years.

Offensively, Pavlik looks to Brett Wildman and Cal Fisher to shoulder much of the load. 

Wildman, a 6-5 junior outside (Virginia Beach,) is an AVCA honorable-mention All-American and the EIVA Co-Player of the Year. He led with 250 kills, more than twice his next closest teammate, and had 27 aces. Fisher, a 6-3 sophomore opposite (Pittsburgh), was second in kills with 117 (1.92/set) and passed .970. 

Will Bantle is a fourth-year libero.

“If we manage to get through the season, and none of the older guys get injured, great,” Pavlik said. “But the odds of that happening are slim, but the young guys that we have lined up behind them, I like their physicality and their volleyball IQ.”

Sacred Heart (5-11, 0-7) — Third-year head coach Bob Bertucci will be integrating experience and youth this year. Gone is middle Rob Chatterdon (2.02 kills/set, 1.30 blocks/set) and outside Calin Butler (2.96 kills/set).

Bertucci still has plenty of experience on the roster, with senior libero Tim McIntosh (3.09 digs/set), senior middle Shawn Tishler (.56 blocks/set, 1.49 kills/set) and senior outside Connor Mahony (2.73 kills/set).

There are nine first-year Pioneers, including 6-5 outside Patrick Mucherino and 6-0 setter Teddy Payne.

“We will be young overall as a team, but we do have a few returning players that will give us some experience in most positions,” Bertucci said. “The league will be very competitive this season and we will have to be playing our best every weekend.”

Saint Francis (5-13, 2-5) — The Red Flash opened their season early and stand 1-2 after splitting with Queens but falling to Limestone. 

Head coach Mike Rumbaugh enters his 23rd season, only the second coach in the program’s history. His team returns plenty of experience and leadership, starting with grad-student outside Michael Fisher. The 6-4 product of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, was an EIVA first-teamer who is 59 kills away from 1,000 in his career, Rumbaugh noted. He had 251 kills last year.

Also returning are sophomore outside Blake Liprando, also from Mechanicsburg, who had 143 kills; senior setter Roman Szwabinsky (8.55 assists/set); junior right side Josh Blair (88 kills); and sophomore AJ Schmidt (60 kills). Sophomore middle blockers Brandon Dunz and Thomas Leahey will both contribute, Rumbaugh said. Sophomore outsides, however, led SFU when it beat Queens this past Saturday, as Braden Richard led with 113 kills and four blocks, and Alexander Finch had 12 kills and three aces.

The Red Flash lost only graduated opposite Christian Graziano and the freshmen include 6-2 outside Joey Ferragonio (Irwin, Pennsylania), 6-0 libero Peyton Blain (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6-3 opposite Trevor Lewis (Frankfort, Illinois), 5-11 libero Tony Boff (Pittsburgh) and 6-3 Ryan Parker (East Northport, N.Y.).

“I’m excited for the opportunity to have the season and I’m glad the coaches in the EIVA could work together for the safety of the athletes and put together a very competitive schedule,” Rumbaugh said. “For the mental health of our student-athletes, they need to compete. 

“I’m going to miss playing Princeton and Harvard, but we are playing a schedule of competitors who will make for great matches.”

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