Season Preview: 5 teams that may surprise everyone in 2014

There are teams that have high preseason expectations and than there are those teams that enter a season will little fanfare but become the biggest surprises of the year.

Whether it’s Long Beach State last year overcoming little preseason hype to almost reach the NCAA Tournament or UC Santa Barbara’s postseason run to the 2011 NCAA finals, each season tends to feature teams that surprise everyone.


Several teams that last season finished outside the national rankings or missed their conference tournament could have big 2014 seasons.

Check out the five teams that no one is talking about but could surprise some everyone this upcoming season.

USC
It was a train wreck of a 2013 season for USC. The Trojans went from playing in the 2012 NCAA finals to last season when they had everything from major injuries to missing the postseason for the first time in more than five years. With starting outside attacker Maddison McKibbin and all-conference libero Henry Cassiday healthy again, the Trojans have enough of a full cast to make it back into the postseason. In addition, USC has one of the best players in college men’s volleyball right now in Micah Christenson. The All-American setter spent the off-season training with the U.S. Men’s National Team and helped lead the United States to a NORCECA championship. Christenson and a healthy starting lineup should be enough for USC to have a bounce-back season.

St. Francis
St. Francis has not reached the EIVA Tournament since the conference switched to its current four-team format for the 2012 season. That streak, though, could come to an end this season. The Red Flashes return a majority of starters from last year’s team that finished in fifth place in the EIVA, including outside attacker Logan Patterson. Patterson last season earned First-Team All-EIVA honors as he led the conference with a 3.74 kills per game average. Coach Mike Rumbaugh also said in an interview Off the Block earlier this fall that the team has seen improvement at setter with Michael Kresch and Michael Krepp both competing for the starting spot. St. Francis has all the necessary pieces this year to return to the postseason and potentially pull off some upsets.


Lindenwood
Lindenwood is now a full NCAA Division II member, postseason eligible and poised to surprise some people this year in the MIVA. The Lions in their inaugural season in the MIVA finished in sixth place despite being ineligible for the 2013 conference tournament. The team also upset Lewis in the regular season for its first victory against a nationally ranked team. Outside attacker Colin Hackworth enters his junior season as Preseason All-MIVA selection after finishing last year in the conference’s top five for kills per game average. In addition, setter Tim Schmidt was one of 16 players named to the watch list for the Lloy Ball Award, which is presented to the nation’s top setter. Despite being picked to finish seventh in the MIVA preseason coaches poll, the Lions have the chance to surprise and upset more than one team this season.

Mount Olive
The Trojans will be among the favorites to win the inaugural Conference Carolinas automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For the newest college men’s volleyball conference, though, this team could play an important role in establishing the Conference Carolinas reputation with its non-conference matches this upcoming season. Mount Olive will play seven non-conference matches against EIVA and MIVA opponents, including road matches against Cal Baptist, Loyola, Lewis and Penn State. The Trojans return a majority of starters after winning the Conference Carolinas regular season championship and a program-record 22 matches last season. Coach David Heller’s emphasis on international recruiting has made Mount Olive not only a conference favorite but a team that could pull off some non-conference upsets.

Pacific
There may not be a team more people want to see exceed preseason expectations than Pacific given the program’s devastating off-season. Pacific will enter its final season after the university in October opted to cut the men’s volleyball team following the 2014 season for financial reasons. In the program’s last year of existence, the Tigers return a majority of starters, including Preseason All-American libero Javier Caceres. Pacific finished last season in 11th place in the MPSF and was picked to repeat its 11th-place finish in the conference preseason coaches poll. The Tigers have not reached the postseason in more than five years but are eyeing an opportunity to close-out their program’s history with a MPSF Tournament appearance.