The Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association continued to flex its muscles in a big way last year with Ohio State becoming the third league entrant in a row to win the NCAA title and fourth in the last six years.
And Ohio State, which downed BYU in three sets to win the national crown, is a heavy favorite to do more even more damage in the MIVA and beyond in 2017.
Ohio State is ranked first in the country in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. The Buckeyes got 23 of a possible 24 first-place votes and UCLA got the other.
“I believe Ohio State is at the top,” Lewis coach Dan Friend said. “They have a great core of returning players with some really good arms. Following Ohio State, I think its Ball State, Loyola, McKendree and us. The other team that could be a sleeper is Grand Canyon.”
Accordingly, MIVA coaches also tabbed the Buckeyes as the preseason conference favorites with eight of nine bench bosses giving Ohio State first-place votes (Lewis received the other).
“I believe the MIVA is at its strongest position in many years,” longtime Ohio State coach Pete Hanson said. “Lewis and Loyola will be much improved along with Grand Canyon and McKendree. Those were all young teams that did not lose many players. I think we are one of the top teams in the league, but on any given night you can be ripe for an upset if you fail to play hard.”
All of the preseason hype surrounding the Buckeyes is likely justified, considering the team returns six of seven starters from a team that went 31-2, headlined by 2016 AVCA player of the year Nicolas Szerzsen (6-4, OH, Jr.). Szerszen, also the MIVA player of the year, ranked second in the league in kills per set (4.23) and also set a school record with 63 service aces (0.42 aces per set).
The Buckeyes also have 6-6 senior right side Miles Johnson, who was named the NCAA tournament MVP and garnered first-team All-American honors. Senior 6-5 setter Christy Blough also returns, as does 6-7 sophomore middle blocker Blake Leeson, who was an all-NCAA tournament team selection. Senior libero Gabriel Domecus is back, along with redshirt 6-8 senior middle blocker Driss Guessous.
Key newcomers include French transfer Maxime Hervoir (6-3, OH) and freshman Reese Devilbiss (6-2, OH, 2016 VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 selection).
“The ability to draw on the experiences of last season and know that the core group is together and should be able to adapt to the new player on the floor who is replacing Christian Franceschi (graduated outside hitter),” Hanson said.
Hanson said a key emphasis this season will be serving teams out of system, which he noted creates opportunity to score points and then convert them when the opportunity arises.
“Those components are all inter-connected,” he said.
The longtime coach added his squad is not about to rest on its laurels.
“What I like most about my team is its continuing work ethic and the attitude of continuing to improve,” Hanson said. “I do not sense they are resting on their success from last season. They want to make this a whole new season with a new and better script.”
Lewis, which finished 19-13 and lost to Ohio State in five in the MIVA final, comes into the season ranked No. 6 in the nation. Friend’s squad also doesn’t lack returning talent.
The Flyers return a key core that includes 6-7 senior outside hitter Trevor Weiskircher, 6-6 redshirt sophomore right side Mitch Perinar and 6-6 redshirt senior middle blocker Jacob Schmiegelt. Perinar was the 2016 MIVA freshman of the year and earned all-MIVA second-team honors along with Schmiegelt.
Lewis also loaded up on the newcomer front with the additions of Cal Baptist transfer Danny Maurer (6-8, MB, Jr.), along with freshmen Kyle Bugee (6-5, OH) and Dalen Instenes (6-5, OH). Ryan Coenen is a 6-9 redshirt freshman outside hitter. VolleyballMag.com had Lewis with the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in 2016 behind only Stanford.
“We have some good size and athleticism at the net which I think can help our blocking and out-of-system attacking,” Friend said. “This group gained experience from last year (Lewis graduated eight seniors in 2015), so I look for that to help us out.”
Friend said first-ball contact will be key for the Flyers.
“We need to be aggressive and serve well along with controlling the pass and dig opportunities,” he said.
Friend also is a fan of the atmosphere in the Romeoville, Ill., practice gym.
“We do a great job of communicating and bringing a high level of energy,” he said. “This helps them compete consistently against every opponent. I also enjoy the work ethic they bring day in and day out.”
Loyola-Chicago checks in at No. 3 on the MIVA preseason poll and No. 11 nationally after coming off a 20-8 season.
The Ramblers welcome back juniors Jeff Jendryk (6-10, MB), Ben Plaisted (6-5, RS), Ricky Gevis (6-11, RS) and Jake Selsky (5-11, libero) and sophomore Collin Mahan (6-5, OH). Jendryk was an All-American second-teamer last year after hitting .431 (278 kills) and posting 101 total blocks. Plaisted averaged 3.18 kills per set, while Gevis was at 3.22 per set. Mahan was versatile in his role, posting 1.99 kills per set while hitting .278 and registering 107 digs. Selsky had 186 digs last year.
Loyola key newcomers include freshmen Ian Cowen (6-5, S), Kyle Piekarski (6-8, MB) and Kyler Kotsakis (6-5, OH). Loyola did graduate student setter Peter Hutz, an all-MIVA first-team pick.
Jendryk, Gevis and Selsky were on the court during Loyola’s 2015 NCAA title run.
“We have a fun mix of youth and experience combining guys like Jeff, Ricky and Jake with a talented core of underclassmen, some of whom got some very valuable experience last year,” second-year Ramblers coach Mark Hulse said. “I think we will be tough to stop in that we won’t rely on any one guy to do all the work and diverse offenses are the toughest to scheme against.”
Pass and serve, he said, are key.
“A lot of our success will boil down to our ability to pass the ball and serve effectively, which has been a constant in our league,” he said. “We certainly have the pieces to be able to do that, but it will be a work in progress. With rare exceptions, the teams that can control one or both of those phases of the game have been the teams holding trophies in May, so that will be at the front of our minds throughout the year.”
Ball State also hit the 20-win barrier a year ago and also is filled with returning talent. Junior 6-11 middle Matt Walsh and senior 6-6 outside Brendan Surane both were all-MIVA second-team picks last year. Walsh finished sixth in the league in blocks per set, while Surane was the MIVA’s 10th leading point scorer. Also back are junior 6-4 outside Mitch Weiler and sophomore libero Adam Wessel, who both ranked in the top 10 in the MIVA in digs in 2016, as well as senior middle blocker 6-6 Alex Pia who was third in the league in blocks. Senior setter Connor Gross (6-5, S) also returns. Freshman Matt Szews (6-8, RS) will help the Cardinals as well.
“We have the ability to generate high-level offense,” said Ball State coach Joel Walton, who noted the team’s pin attacking is improved over recent seasons. “We have strong point-scorers in all positions. Connor understands our offense and makes good decisions as our setter. We also can score points from the service line and we have improved the strength of our serving. We return many experienced players and expect our depth to be another strength.”
Walton and company are looking to build upon last year’s second-place regular-season tie.
“The MIVA will be extremely strong again this season,” Walton said. “There won’t be any matches teams can take lightly. Ohio State is the defending NCAA champion and they return the majority of last year’s team.
“Ohio State is the MIVA favorite and the season will determine where everyone ranks. Ball State, Lewis, Loyola, and McKendree all return large portions of last year’s team’s. We were picked fourth by the MIVA coaches in the preseason poll. My team and staff is very motivated to prove we were significantly under-ranked.”
McKendree, located in Lebanon, Ill., won 11 matches last year and returns all starters from a year ago. Redshirt 6-9 junior middle blocker Brendan Schmidt led the MIVA in blocks per set and tied for sixth in the nation (1.19). Senior middle blocker Wyatt Patterson was fourth in the country in hitting percentage (.450). Junior setter Pasquale Fiduccia also is back and the team fortified the depth at that position with the addition of 6-4 freshman Zach Schnittker (younger brother of senior right side Andrew Schnittker).
“This year’s team has matured into a talented group of men,” said McKendree coach Nickie Sanlin. “Being thrown to the fire of the MIVA in the beginning years of the program has shaped the culture of this group. The strong team culture in and out of the gym will help propel us to new heights during the season.”
Grand Canyon, located in Phoenix, won 17 matches in 2016 and split its 16 MIVA contests. Coach Matt Werle, who was named permanent head coach this past May after serving in an interim role during the 2016 season, returns juniors Shalev Saada (6-6, OH) and Sky Engleman (5-9, libero), along with 6-6 redshirt junior middle Ashton King and 6-2 senior setter Michael Milstein. Saada was an all-MIVA first-team pick after racking up 271 kills, 100 digs, 45 blocks and 33 aces. Engleman led the team in digs with 171.
Grand Canyon also added seniors Drake Silbernagel (6-8, MB) and Matthew Kinnebrew (6-2, RS) to the roster. Kinnebrew played at Juniata College while Silbernagel was on the Arizona State club team.
“We will have a strong balance in every skill of the game,” Werle said. “We may not have a superstar, but our team will be balanced and will play together. This is the most dedicated and disciplined group of guys we have had—top to bottom. We should be able to score out of each attacking zone.”
Werle is part of an entirely new Grand Canyon coaching staff, plus 10 of the 22 players on the roster are new as well.
“I like the way this group of guys has bought into what the staff has been preaching,” Werle said. “We have worked on getting on the same page throughout the fall and the structure that was put in place was believed in by the team.”
Fort Wayne won 10 matches last season and welcomes back 6-4 junior outside hitter Tony Price (267 kills and 68 blocks), 6-3 sophomore setter Michael Keegan (825 assists), redshirt senior outside hitter-libero Scott McNerney and 6-3 senior setter Gabriel Quinones (241 assists).
The Mastodons added former St. Francis player Jack Carlson (6-4, libero) to the roster, as well as 6-4 freshman outside hitter Pelgrin Vargas from Puerto Rico. Freshmen Matt Zeske (6-2, OH) and Richie Diedrich (6-7, MB) also are new to the club.
“We still are in search of an identity and learning how to play with each other, building team cohesiveness and chemistry,” Fort Wayne coach Rock Perrotte said. “We are an extremely young team with three seniors and one junior so our strengths are with our youth and hunger to learn.”
Lindenwood, which won five matches in 2016, returns seniors Jake Duckworth (6-5, OH) and Ryan Moore (6-4, RS), along with junior Michael Chard (6-5, OH) and sophomore Connor Hipelius (6-8, MB). Duckworth led the team with 227 kills last season. Moore had 218 kills, while Chard had 131 and Hipelius had 120 kills. Junior setter Joseph Mayer is a transfer from Santa Monica College where he was the team’s MVP last season.
Quincy returns senior middle blocker Jarrod Kelso, who finished fifth in the MIVA last year in kills with 328. The all-MIVA second-team pick was sixth in hitting percentage at .406. Also back are senior setter Thane Fanfulik and junior libero Collin Merk. Quincy won 18 matches last year under 11th year head coach Hadley Foster.
“Our league has won three straight national titles and four of the last six so I think the top of our conference is as good as it’s ever been,” Loyola’s Hulse said. “No doubt Ohio State is running from the front, but I think we’re one of the few teams that will be in a position to compete for the conference and the championship at the end of the year.
“Our sport is fun in that you can make a push at the end if you do the right things along the way, so we are really focused on that process.”
2017 MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Ohio State (8)
2. Lewis (1)
4. Ball State
6. Grand Canyon
7. Fort Wayne