Forget about your typical safe preseason college men’s volleyball predictions — it’s time to go big, bold and a little crazy.
With the start of the season in less than a week, Off the Block is making its bold predictions on everything from the National Player of the Year race to the NCAA Tournament.
Check out the 10 preseason predictions from Off the Block for the 2015 season.
1. Non-outside attacker will be National Player of the Year — It’s the year of the setter, and that could be culminated with the rarity of a non-outside attacker or opposite winning the AVCA National Player of the Year. An outside attacker has been named the National Player of the Year eight times in the last 10 years. In addition, the last non-outside attacker to win the National Player of the Year was Stanford setter Kawika Shoji in 2010. All three finalists for the 2014 Lloy Ball Award return for the upcoming season, including the inaugural award winner Micah Christenson who spent the off-season playing with U.S. Men’s National Team before returning to USC. Pepperdine All-American setter Matt West will also be on team in contention for the national title this season, while Stanford setter James Shaw returns following an All-American sophomore season.
2. No team will be undefeated in conference play — At least one team has run the table in conference play every season with one exception since 2009. With the added depth in college men’s volleyball this season, that streak is likely to come to an end. Loyola finished last season undefeated in MIVA and returns a majority of its starters. However, the improvements to Ohio State and IPFW in an already strong MIVA will make it even more difficult for the Ramblers to repeat the undefeated feat. In addition, the growth of the EIVA will make it more challenging for the East Coast powerhouse Penn State to go undefeated this season.
3. Three MIVA teams will be ranked in top 10 — This is the deepest the MIVA has been in recent history. If the conference can pull off some big non-conference victories, there is a good chance several teams can move into the top 10 of the national rankings. The MIVA has not had three teams ranked in the top 10 of a single national coaches poll since the 2000 season. Four MIVA teams were ranked in the preseason national coaches poll, but only the defending NCAA champions Loyola and Lewis were in the top 10.
4. Penn State will be No. 1 at some point this season — After a six-year absence from the top of the poll, the Nittany Lions are poised this season to make a run at the No. 1 spot in the national coaches poll. Penn State returns all but one of its starters from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament semifinals — including outside attacker Aaron Russell, the 2014 EIVA Player of the Year and an Off the Block/Springback Preseason All-American selection. The Nittany Lions also will open the season at No. 3 in the national coaches poll, their highest preseason ranking in more than five years. The ability for Penn State to climb in the poll will largely be determined by its non-conference match results against West Coast teams. Penn State will open the season at the Outrigger Invitational with matches against Hawai’i and UC Irvine.
5. Cal State Northridge will make postseason — There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic this is the season Cal State Northridge ends it streak and returns to the postseason. The Matadors since reaching the NCAA Tournament semifinals in 2010 have missed the eight-team MPSF Tournament three of the last four years, including the last two seasons. Cal State Northridge returns a majority of its starters after finishing last season in 10th place. Outside attacker Sam Holt also was among the national leaders in 2014 with a 3.80 kills per game average and had a career-high 37 kills in a late-season upset victory against UCLA. In addition, the Matadors were picked to finish in eighth place in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll.
6. MIVA will win at least eight matches vs. MPSF — The MPSF remains the top conference in college men’s volleyball. The improved depth of the MIVA and the increased non-conference schedule in the MPSF, though, will lead to more MIVA teams getting big non-conference victories against the MPSF. MIVA teams last season went a combined 7-10 against the MPSF, including Loyola defeating Stanford in the NCAA championship match. The MIVA and MPSF will play 19 non-conference matches against each other during the upcoming season.
7. Hawai’i will play a postseason home match — The trend of Hawai’i missing the MPSF Tournament may not only come to an end, but this team could be good enough to finish in the top four of the MPSF and earn a home match for the conference tournament quarterfinals. Among the starters for the Rainbow Warriors includes two Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Preseason All-Americans — middle attacker Taylor Averill and outside attacker Brook Sedore. In addition, Hawai’i because of its scheduling format will play the top three ranked teams in the conference preseason coaches poll only at home this season. The Rainbow Warriors finished the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll in seventh place. The team also has not played host to a postseason match since 2010 when it beat Pepperdine in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals.
8. Lindenwood will upset a nationally ranked team — For a team that won 19 matches last season, Lindenwood received little fanfare this preseason. The Lions, though, are capable enough to pull off one of their first upset victory of a nationally ranked since the program transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division I-II. Opposite Colin Hackworth returns for his senior year after finishing among national leaders last season with both a 3.59 kills per game average and 50 aces. Hackworth also earned Preseason All-MIVA honors and received votes for the Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Preseason All-American Team. Lindenwood finished in seventh place in the MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll and ended last season in sixth place in the conference.
9. Barton will beat a MIVA or EIVA team — Barton went from going almost one-and-half seasons before getting the program’s first win to now being a possible Conference Carolinas team that could pull off a big non-conference upset. The Bulldogs last season qualified for the six-team Conference Carolinas Tournament and won their first postseason match in program history. In addition, libero and Pepperdine transfer Michael McMahon led the nation last season with a 3.20 digs per game average. Despite this recent success, Barton is 0-11 all-time against the EIVA and MIVA in non-conference play. The Bulldogs will play seven matches against those two conferences during upcoming season.
10. More than 5,000 attendance at NCAA finals — Stanford showed five years ago it can get a big crowd when it plays host to the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal had more than 6,000 people in attendance for the championship match as it won the 2010 NCAA title on its home court. However, even if the Stanford does not make the NCAA Tournament there will likely still be a respectable attendance at the event. Stanford finished 11th in the nation for home attendance average last season. In addition, a NCAA finals attendance of more than 5,000 people would make it among the highest attendance championships played at a neutral site in the last 10 years.