There’s always some safe preseason predictions to make every year — and than there’s the crazy, bold ones.
With the college men’s volleyball season less than two weeks away from starting, Off the Block is making its bold predictions on everything from conference championship races to what will happen in the NCAA championship match.
Check out the 10 preseason predictions from Off the Block for the 2014 season.
1. At least four teams will be ranked No. 1 — The amount of parity within the top-tier of college men’s volleyball was evident in the preseason polls. The top four teams in the MPSF preseason coaches poll were separated by less than 10 votes, while five teams received at least one first-place vote in the preseason national coaches poll. This potential instability at the top of the polls would be a change from last year when UC Irvine and BYU were the only teams to be ranked No. 1 in the regular season.
2. Loyola will lose no more than two MIVA matches — The Ramblers return a majority of starters from their 2013 team that reached the NCAA Tournament semifinals — including Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Preseason All-American outside attacker Joseph Smalzer and Thomas Jaeschke. In addition, Loyola finished last season 10-4 in conference play to win a share of the MIVA regular season title. The team also received all but one first-place vote in MIVA preseason coaches poll that was released last week. All preseason indications has Loyola as the preseason favorite to repeat as MIVA champions.
3. An EIVA team will beat Penn State — The Nittany Lions are the favorites to win another EIVA championship and this prediction is by no means an indictment of the program that returns almost all of its starters from last year. Instead, it’s a statement of much better the EIVA has gotten in recent years. Harvard last season became the first team to beat Penn State in conference play since 2008. Several other EIVA teams from Princeton to George Mason are now eyeing an opportunity to upset Penn State in the upcoming season.
4. There will be a consensus National Player of the Year — The answer you get when asking who was the 2013 National Player of the Year all depends on who you are talking to. For one of the rare times in college men’s volleyball history, there was a split as Long Beach State outside attacker Taylor Crabb won the AVCA National Player of the Year and BYU outside attacker Taylor Sander won the Volleyball Magazine National of the Year. Both players return for their senior season and are contenders to win another National Player of the Year award. However, don’t expect for different players to receive the two National Player of the Year awards.
5. NCAA Tournament semifinals and finals will be sold-out — Loyola has been prepping for years to play host to the NCAA Tournament and will get its chance in May. The Ramblers have a growing passionate fan-base, and Chicago area volleyball continues to expand as Illinois is one of the few states in the nation to sponsor high school boys volleyball. With a seating capacity of about 5,000 people at Gentile Arena, this upcoming NCAA Tournament has the potential to be the first sell-out since 2008.
6. A MIVA team will be in contention for an at-large bid — With the NCAA Tournament expanding to six teams, the possibility of a non-West Coast team earning one of the two at-large bids has greatly increased. The likelihood remains that both at-large bids will go to MPSF schools — only once has a non-West Coast team earned an at-large bid since 1970. If Loyola, Lewis, Ohio State or Ball State can have strong non-conference showings at the start of the year against MPSF teams, though, they could all be in play at the end of the year for an at-large bid.
7. BYU’s international players will have big freshmen seasons — All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander will continue to put up big offensive numbers, but the addition of two freshmen players could be the key for the Cougars’ offense. Outside attacker Kiril Meretev begins his college career after helping lead Bulgaria to a top-six finish at the FIVB U-21 Men’s Junior World Championship. In addition, freshman opposite Tim Dobbert competed with the Germany Junior National Team at the most recent European Championships.
8. USC and St. Francis will make the postseason — Both teams look poised to return to their conference tournaments after missing the postseason last season. The Trojans have all their injured starters from last season returning and setter Micah Christenson spent the off-season playing with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Despite St. Francis missing the EIVA Tournament the last two seasons, the Red Flashes have most of its starters returning from last season when it finished in fifth place in the EIVA.
9. Mount Olive will win two non-conference matches against MIVA and EIVA teams — Don’t sleep on Mount Olive, the defending Conference Carolinas regular season champions. The Trojans are coming off of a 22-win season and return all-conference outside attacker Angel Dache. Mount Olive also has increased the strength of its non-conference schedule with seven matches against the EIVA and MIVA. This team has the potential to pull off a couple non-conference upsets.
10. No sweep in the NCAA championship match — The teams in the national championship match aren’t close to being determined, but it’s going to be historically unlikely for the match to be a sweep. The last two and three of the last four NCAA finals have been sweeps. The only time in college men’s volleyball history that there has been three consecutive sweeps in NCAA championship happened occurred from 1998 to 2001. With how close all the top-tier teams could be this season, it may be the biggest surprise of the season if the finals ends in a sweep.