MIVA preview: Lewis picked atop “deep and talented” conference

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MIVA men's volleyball preview 1/20/2021-Lewis volleyball-Ryan Coenen
Lewis' Ryan Coenen, shown spiking against UCSD last January, leads the Flyers into the MIVA season/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Lewis appears poised to maintain its recent MIVA dominance. The Flyers from Romeoville, Illinois, won the conference in 2019, going 13-1, and last year were 6-1 when the season was canceled.

Accordingly, the preseason coaches poll has Lewis at No. 1 with 62 points and six first-place vote. Chicago rival Loyola was second, and Ball State (which got the other two first-place votes) was third. Purdue Fort Wayne, McKendree, Lindenwood, Ohio State, and Quincy follow. Lewis was No. 5 in the AVCA national preseason top 15 and Ohio State was No. 14.

“The MIVA itself will be deep and talented,” veteran Lewis coach Dan Friend said.  “Several key players are returning for their COVID year, making every team dangerous in the league on any given night. It is hard to highlight any one team, because in my eyes all eight teams have the chance to hoist the MIVA trophy at the end of the season.”

Some teams will play some non-conference matches first, but conference play begins February 4 featuring a double round-robin with teams playing twice on consecutive nights. The MIVA tournament is April 17-24 (site TBD).

The MIVA in alphabetical order with 2020 records in parentheses:

Ball State (12-6, 4-3) — Head coach Joel Walton said in November this would be his 23rd and final season. He holds a 403-230 record, the fourth-winningest active coach in men’s volleyball. 

“I’m excited for the season to start,” Walton said. “We have a group of experienced players on both sides of the court on offense and defense. The outside hitters, middle attackers and libero positions have a lot of depth to them.

“Last year the Cardinals missed out on a home stretch that could have escalated our success, but unfortunately due to the global COVID-19 pandemic were unable to play out the remainder of the season.”

While Ball State has to replace to key players, outside Matt Szews and setter Jake Romano, Junior outside Kaleb Jenness is an all-MIVA preseason selection who got AVCA honorable-mention honors last spring when he had 246 kills, 13 assists, nine aces, 102 digs and 22 blocks. 

Both 6-4 outside Blake Reardon and 6-2 setter Quinn Isaacson were second-team All-MIVA. Reardon, a graduate student, produced 2.86 kills/set while hitting .310. Isaacson, a senior, had 587 assists with 13 aces and 122 digs.

Walton brings in a promising freshman class of six: Trevor Phillips (6-6 outside, Davidson, N.C.), 6-7 outside Angelos Mandilaris (Chalkida, Greece), 6-9 outside Mark Wickstrom (Elk Grove Village, Illinois), 6-6 outside/setter Dyer Ball (Angola, Indinana), 6-7 middle Kevin Doran (Napierville, Illinois) and 6-2 libero Lukas Pytlak (Lake Zurich, Illinois).

That group “could make a great deal of impact for the Cardinals on the court this season,” Walton said.

Lewis (15-4, 6-1) — Lewis won its last eight matches in 2020 and a big reason was MIVA player of the year Ryan Coenen, an AVCA first-teamer who had 256 kills and hit .330.  Lewis has three other MIVA first-team selections in 6-8 senior setter Kevin Kauling, 6-11 senior middle Tyler Mitchem and 6-9 senior middle TJ Murray.

Most of the 2020 roster is intact, and Friend adds promising outside/opposites in freshmen Landon Krause (6-5, Appleton, Wis.) and Keaton Long (6-5, Plano, Texas).

“I think one of the keys to being successful this year will be our ability to bend and flow with all the challenges and changes,” Friend said. If we can do that at a high level this group will be fun to watch and successful.”

Lindenwood (11-8, 4-2) — The Lions lost 2020 All-MIVA middle Sam Schindler to graduation, but coach Joe Kosciw is hoping Lindenwood will pick up where it left off.

Junior outside Diego Negron (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) made the All-MIVA first team after getting 155 kills and 26 aces in 2020. The group of returners includes AJ Lewis (6-5 sophomore outside), Alex Pappas (6-7 junior middle) and Kyle Deutschmann (6-2 sophomore libero).

Kosciw also expects significant contributions from the freshman class of Connor Sheehan (6-0 setter, O’Fallon, Illinois), Carter Stenmark (6-3 outside, Bolingbrook, Illinois), Rodney Wallace (6-6 middle, Maryland Heights, Maryland), Eric Winn (6-0 libero, Cumming, Georgia.), Clay Wieter (6-6 outside, St. Louis), and Ken Naples (6-7 middle, Buffalo, N.Y.)

“With losing only one key starter from last season, we are looking to pick up where we left off in the shortened 2020 season,” said Kosciw. “With the rest of our starters returning, as well as the growth a lot of our athletes have shown over the past year and the addition of our incoming freshman class, there is depth and it will be a fun and competitive season to play.”

Loyola Chicago (7-11, 4-4) — Loyola begins 2021 at No. 2 in the MIVA preseason poll. The Ramblers’ keys are All-MIVA selections Cole Schlothauser (6-5 sophomore outside) and Garrett Zolg (6-3 senior setter).

Cole Schlothauer, a 6-5 sophomore outside, established himself as a freshman. He had 3.79 kills/set, 1.64 digs, and 22 aces and was named the league’s newcomer of the year. Garrett Zoig, the 6-3 senior setter, missed last season with an injury, but is a two-time AVCA honorable-mention All-American.

Gone are two starters in senior middle Kyle Piekarski, a 2020 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American and MIVA first-teamer and senior setter Ian Cowen. But sixth-year coach Mark Hulse brings in a strong recruiting class, ranked No. 5 in our VolleyballMag.com 2020 recruiting rankings. The group includes Jimmy Meinhart (6-8 middle, Glen Ellyn, Illinois), who is likely to start, and Parker Van Buren (6-9 outside, Cross Plains, Wisconsin.) and Dan Mangun (6-4 setter, Joliet, Illinois).

“Setting aside all the uncertainty that comes with COVID-19, this year will come down to how guys who have developed in the gym are able to translate that onto the court,” Hulse said. “It’s nice welcoming back Garrett Zolg and Cole Schlothauer, who had a big freshman year, but guys like Devin Joslyn and Luke Denton could combine with the younger crew to really give us production at every position.”

McKendree (10-7, 4-3) — Last year McKendree pulled off what might have been the biggest upset in MIVA play, a 3-2 win over Lewis. And coach Nickie Sanlin, one of only two women who are head coaches in NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball, returns her starting lineup. 

Leading the way is 6-6 graduate-student middle blocker Wyatt Dimke, who a first-team member of the MIVA preseason team. Also up front are 6-4 graduate opposite Zach Schnittker (122 kills), 6-8 senior outside Ethan Carroll (117 kills), 6-5 senior outside Patrick Ross (116 kills), 6-6 graduate middle Lucas Galifos (81 kills) and 6-4 junior outside Brendon Dunn (49 kills).

Both 6-5 junior setter Ryan Serrano and 5-6 libero Francisco Comas made the all-MIVA second team. And Sanlin expects 6-3 graduate opposite Evan Gebert, a 2020 NAIA Honorable Mention All-American, to break into the starting lineup at one of the pins. 

“We are very optimistic. The positive is that COVID made my team and every other team more appreciative of the opportunities to play volley. With all of our starters returning, we have extremely high standards in the gym. Everyone knows the system and my coaching style,” Sanlin said.

“The MIVA is a battleground, but we’re not a young team anymore, we have quite a bit of experience, and we’re hoping to break into that top three this season.”

Ohio State (11-8, 2-5) — The three-time NCAA volleyball champions (2011, 2016, 2017) begin Friday against the EIVA’s Penn State, with MIVA play commencing against Lewis on February 5.

Head coach Kevin Burch, who was a part of all three of Ohio State’s national championships, as a volunteer assistant in 2011 and assistant in 2016 and 2017, has to replace outside hitter Reese Devilbiss, second in kills with 203.

Martin Lallemand, a 6-4 senior outside from Belgium, had more than 200 kills while hitting .302 percentage. Two sophomores also will be key, setter Michael Wright (10.2 assists/set) and middle Samuel Clark (.455 hitting percentage).

The Ohio State freshman class was ranked No. 8 by VolleyballMag.com. Freshman outside Sotiris Siapanis (Limmasol, Cyprus) started on the Cyprus national team.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to compete in what has been a trying year,” Burch said. “Our administrators and support staff have worked extremely hard to provide a safe environment and we look forward to taking full advantage of the opportunity at hand. 

“We will likely see a mix of new faces and stable veterans this season that will give us a chance in every match. The MIVA has as much parity this year as any I can remember and it will require us to be at our best every night in order to meet our high expectations for the season.” 

Purdue Fort Wayne (10-7, 3-5) — Unlike most of their MIVA brethren, Purdue Fort Wayne will not play preseason matches, putting the Mastodons weeks behind when they open February 5 at Ball State.

The good news is sixth-year coach Ryan Perotte returns his entire team, including graduate student outside Pelegrin Vargas, who had 232 kills in 2020 (4.38/set), while hitting .296. Perotte said freshman Bryce Walker, a 6-8 middle, could get in the mix.

“We are hoping to be more consistent and more balanced this year than what we were last season,” Perotte said. “With conference-only play for us, we will need to play with more urgency on a nightly basis.  It is a sprint and a game of survival.  Our conference is loaded at the top with Lewis and Loyola, but other teams like OSU, BSU, McKendree, Quincy, and Lindenwood have all improved significantly, so that winning matches will be no easy task.”

Quincy (5-13, 1-5) — Fourth-year head coach Gavin Mueller looks for the Hawks to be more balanced.

“This year we are looking for everyone to step up,” Mueller said. 

Omari Wheeler, a 6-5 senior opposite, led the Hawks with 219 kills. But the Hawks will need to replace the void left by middles Adam Meyer (59 kills, 1.2/set) and Blake Sprecher (53 kills, 1.26/set). 

Italian graduate-student Andrea Miotto, a 6-6 middle, is a timely add for the Hawks. The defense will be led by junior libero Noam Hannoun (Givaat, Israel)

“As long as we can stay healthy I think we have a good chance to compete at a high level on a consistent basis,” Mueller said. “We have spent many hours in the off-season breaking everything down and building our skills up to where they need to be. We have a lot of chemistry on this team and the culture is strong. We have one goal and we are going to achieve it together.”

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