Gap might close, but defending-champion Ohio State still atop MIVA

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Nicolas Szerszen-Ohio State-Buckeyes-MIVA-Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association
Ohio State's Nicolas Szerszen/Jay LaPrete photo

The Ohio State men’s team has had quite the run of late.

The Buckeyes, who have won the last two NCAA titles, once again are predicted to win the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association title. The Buckeyes also are ranked No. 1 in the country by the AVCA heading out of the preseason.

However, the road to another conference title might be a lot tougher this season for veteran coach Pete Hanson’s program. In the preseason MIVA coaches’ poll, Ohio State received six of eight first-place votes. Ball State, picked third by coaches, received the other two first-place nods. The Buckeyes had 61 points with Lewis second at 54, Ball State third at 50 and Loyola Chicago fourth with 43 points.

Ohio State placed three players on the preseason all-MIVA team, including 2016 VolleyballMag.com men’s college player of the year Nicolas Szerszen. He’s joined by fellow senior outside Maxime Hervoir and redshirt-junior middle Blake Leeson.

Lewis, though, placed four players on the team in redshirt-sophomore outside Ryan Coenen, junior setter Matt Yoshimoto, redshirt-junior outside Mitch Perinar and redshirt-junior libero Michael Simmons.

In addition to Ohio State on the national level, Lewis is ranked sixth in the country, Loyola is 13th and Ball State is 14th.

“I think everyone is still chasing Ohio State,” said Lewis coach Dan Friend. “Their pins anchor them down, for sure. Several teams will be pushing to take them down. Ball State has a great core group, Loyola and Fort Wayne both will be better and in the hunt and McKendree and Lindenwood both have some great pieces. It’s great how the conference has improved and continues to get better.”

Szerszen and Loyola 6-10 senior middle Jeff Jendryk are the only returning VolleyballMag.com first-team All-Americans out of the MIVA. Lewis’ Coenen was a second-team pick last year, while Lewis’ Perinar, Simmons and Yoshimoto were honorable-mention selections along with the Ball State duo of Matt Szews (6-8, OH, Soph.) and Matt Walsh (6-11, MB, Sr.).

Loyola had the No. 7-ranked incoming recruiting class according to VolleyballMag.com, while Ohio State was ninth and Ball State, Purdue-Fort Wayne and Lewis earned honorable mentions.

Hanson sees a competitive MIVA race with Lewis, Ball State and Loyola in the conversation as well.

“A team that could be a sleeper is McKendree,” he said. “They have come a long way in a short amount of time. Every night will be an important night when you step on an MIVA court.”

Ohio State
2017 record: 32-2, 16-0 MIVA
Key losses:  Christy Blough (S), Miles Johnson (RS), Gabriel Domecus (Libero), Driss Guessous (MB)
Who’s back: Nicolas Szerszen (6-4, OH, Sr.), Blake Leeson (6-7, MB, Jr.), Maxime Hervoir (6-3, OH, Sr.), Sanil Thomas (6-0, S, Jr.), Jake Hanes (6-10, RS, R-Fresh), Reese Devilbiss (6-2, OH, Soph.), Nick Laffin (6-5, MB, R-Sr.)
Analysis: Two-time defending NCAA champion Ohio State lost plenty from last year’s squad that ran through the MIVA undefeated, but also returns plenty, headlined by the aforementioned Szerszen, Leeson and Hervoir.
“Those three returning guys have played the last two-and-half to three years,” said Hanson. “Our other strength is our guys have a pretty good mindset about what they need to do and how they need to compete and what is at stake. Even though some of the guys haven’t been on the court, they understand what it’s all about. We aren’t teaching a lot of new things to a lot of new guys. These guys are pretty dialed in.”
Hanson has been preaching the message that those who are replacing graduated standouts need to be themselves on the court.
“We have to have each individual play within themselves,” he said. “We can’t expect who ever plays the opposite position to be Miles Johnson. That’s not realistic. They need to be who they are and play at their level they are comfortable with. You can’t be those other guys. They have to be themselves. Be who you are and keep getting better at your skill set. We have enough experience, knowledge and enough good players to overcome some of those things.”

Lewis
2017 record: 23-7, 13-3
Key losses: Jacob Schmeigelt (MB), Trevor Weiskircher (OH)
Who’s back: Ryan Coenen (6-9, OH, Soph.), Mitch Perinar (6-6, RS, Jr.), Matt Yoshimoto (6-5, S, Jr.), Michael Simmons (6-4, Libero, Jr.), Kyle Bugee (6-5, OH, Soph.), Julian Moses (6-4, OH, Jr.), Tyler Mitchem (6-10, MB, R-Fresh.)
Analysis: Lewis is coming off a 2017 campaign that saw it hit the 20-win barrier for the sixth time in seven seasons. And the Flyers did it with four new starters. Coenen was named the AVCA newcomer of the year and joined Perinar, Yoshimoto and Simmons on the all-MIVA first team.
“We are returning a solid core group of starters and veterans this year that I hope helps with continuity and team chemistry,” said Friend. “They know what it takes to get where we want to go. We also have some new athletes that have a tremendous upside.”
Friend said serving effectiveness, blocking and the ability to transition points will be keys to the team’s success. He also has his eye on the middle blocker position.
“Integrating our new middles into our system will be important,” said Friend.

Loyola Chicago
2017 record: 16-12, 9-7
Key losses: Cole Murray (OH), Ben Plaisted (OH)
Who’s back: Jeff Jendryk (6-10, MB, Sr.), Collin Mahan (6-5, OH, Jr.), Ian Cowen (6-5, S, Soph.), Ricky Gevis (6-11, OH, Sr.), Paul Narup (6-7, MB, Jr.), Avery Aylsworth (6-0, Libero, Jr.)
Analysis: Coach Mark Hulse has four starters back, including All-American first-team selection Jendryk, who checked in last year among the national leaders in hitting  percentage (4th at .431) and blocks (1.16 per set, 7th). Mahan was an all-conference second-team pick, while Cowen made the MIVA all-freshman team. Outside hitters Thomas Kovanic and Devin Joslyn along with setter Garrett Zolg are part of that VolleyballMag.com No. 7-ranked recruiting class.

Ball State
2017 record: 19-10, 9-7
Key losses: Connor Gross (S), Edgardo Cartagena (OH), Brendan Surane (OH), Mike Schannell (OH), Alex Pia (MB), Nate Wolf (OH)
Who’s back: Matt Szews (6-8, OH, Soph.), Matt Walsh (6-11, MB, Sr.), Blake Reardon (6-4, OH, Soph.), Adam Wessel (5-11, Libero, Jr.), Nick Lavanchy (5-10, Libero, Soph.), Anhtony Lebryk (6-6, MB, Sr.), Parker Swartz (6-5, MB, Jr.), Mitch Weiler (6-4, OH, Sr.)
Analysis: Ball State has starters back in every position except at setter. Szews was the MIVA co-freshman of the year last year, while Walsh was an all-MIVA first-team pick. The Cardinals welcome transfer David Siebum from Quincy where he was the top point-scorer last season. The setting duties, handled by All-MIVA second-team pick Gross last year, will be handled by either Quinn Isaacson, Jake Romano or Courtland Scharenborg.

McKendree
2017 record: 11-19, 6-10
Key losses: Wyatt Patterson (MB), Maalik Walker (RS)
Who’s back: Pasquale Fiduccia (6-2, S, Sr.), Brendan Schmidt (6-9, MB, Sr.), Nolan Rueter (6-5, OH, Sr.), Zach Thompson (5-6, Libero, Jr.)
Outlook: McKendree has drawn praise from several MIVA coaches for its upward ascension in recent years. This is only McKendree’s fifth season as a men’s volleyball program and fourth as a member of the MIVA where last year it finished with a program-best six conference wins. Fiduccia and Schmidt both earned all-MIVA honors last year. Fiduccia was third in the league in assists (10.05 per set), while Schmidt led McKendree in blocking (1.21 per set). Nickie Sanlin is in her first year as men’s coach. She’s also the school’s head women’s coach.

Lindenwood
2017 record: 5-19, 4-12
Key losses: Jack Duckworth (OH), Ryan Moore (RS)
Who’s back: Sam Schindler (6-7, MB, Soph.), Connor Hipelius (6-8, MB, Jr.), Ryan Vorderer (6-4, Libero, Sr.), Adam Brewster (6-3, S, Jr.), Nate Van Dellen (6-3, OH, Sr.)
Analysis: Schindler made the all-MIVA honorable-mention team and the all-freshman team a year ago, while Hipelius also was a conference honorable-mention pick. Joe Kosciw is in his first year as head coach at Lindenwood after serving as an assistant for four years. He’s assisted by former Fort Wayne player Ben Duckworth, who helped start the Lindenwood program with McKendree head coach Nickie Sanlin.

Fort Wayne
2017 record: 5-23, 2-14
Key losses: Graydon Schroeder (MB), Nick Smalter (OH), Scott McNerney (Libero)
Who’s back: Tony Price (6-4, OH, Jr.), Pelgrin Vargas (6-4, OH, Soph.), Richie Diedrich (6-8, MB, Soph.), Michael Keegan (6-3, S, Jr.)
Analysis: The Mastadons were felled by injury in 2017 and look to put that in the rear-view mirror. Price started in 2016 but missed last season due to injury. Vargas started 20 matches last year as a freshman before falling to injury. He averaged 3.18 kills per set and made the all-MIVA freshman team and was a league honorable-mention selection. Diedrich started 23 matches as a freshman last year and hit .308, which ranked second on the team. Keegan averaged 9.19 assists per set and hit .348.

Quincy
2017 record: 7-22, 2-14
Key losses: Jarrod Kelso (MB)
Who’s back: Thane Fanfulik (6-5, S, Sr.), Anthony Winter (6-4, OH, Sr.), Collin Merk (5-10, Libero, Sr.), Simon Bruckner (5-10, Libero, Sr.), Jacob Sheets (6-7, MB, Jr.)
Analysis: Quincy lost five players from last year’s team, but returns 12. Quincy will have to overcome the loss of two-time all-conference middle Jarrod Kelso, along with scoring leader David Siebum, who transferred to Ball State.

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