Who doesn’t like a team that becomes the feel-good story of the season by exceeding preseason expectations.
Several teams that last season finished outside the national rankings or missed their conference tournament could have big seasons in 2015.
Check out the one team from each of the four NCAA Division I-II conference that are positioned to be the surprise teams of 2015.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
After a two-year hiatus from the postseason, Cal State Northridge is primed this year to finish in the top eight of the MPSF standings and return to the MPSF Tournament. The Matadors return a majority of starters from last year’s team that finished in 10th place, including outside attacker Sam Holt. Holt ended last season among the national leaders with a 3.80 kills per game average and had a season-high 37 kills in a late-season upset victory against UCLA. In addition, middle attacker Greg Faulkner in 2014 had a team-high .430 attack percentage and was an All-MPSF honorable mention, while libero Bradley Sakaida earned Freshmen All-MPSF honors. The Matadors were picked to finish in eighth place in the MPSF Preseason Poll. However, Cal State Northridge showed late last season it’s capable of pulling off several upsets, especially at home. The Matadors could have an even bigger home court advantage this upcoming season with renovations now complete to the Matadome that includes a black playing surface.
Lindenwood has received little to none preseason fanfare, but opposite Colin Hackworth is a big reason why the Lions could exceed preseason expectations in 2015. Hackworth finished last season among the national leaders with both a 3.59 kills per game average and 50 aces. In addition, the senior earned Preseason All-MIVA honors and has earned all-conference honors the last two years. Lindenwood also added two transfer in the off-season to compete for the starting setter position. Connor Metcalfe was a back-up setter for Cal Baptist in 2013, while Roman Seghezzi coming off the bench helped Concorida-Irvine win the 2013 NAIA championship. This will be Lindenwood’s second season under head coach Kris Dorn, which could feature the Lions surpass their projected seventh-place finish in the MIVA Preseason Poll.
Coach Fred Chao has quietly assembled one of the best young rosters in the nation. Outside attacker Radoslav Popov returns after being named the 2014 EIVA Newcomer of the Year and a First-Team All-EIVA selection. Popov also was one of seven players in the EIVA last season to have at least a 3.00 kills per game average. The Patriots in the off-season also added Belmont Abbey transfer libero Johnny Gomez, who was a 2014 Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Freshmen All-American selection, and setter Brian Negron, a highly touted recruit from Puerto Rico. George Mason finished last season reaching the four-team EIVA Tournament for the third consecutive year. While Penn State will be the favorite in the EIVA this season, George Mason has the potential to upset several EIVA teams.
Don’t expect Emmanuel to look like a typical first-year program as it makes its Conference Carolinas debut this season. Emmanuel in its final season as a NAIA member finished at No. 8 of the NAIA coaches poll before continuing the transitioning to NCAA Division II and joining the Conference Carolinas in the off-season. Sophomore outside attacker Ryck Webb highlights the starters return for Emmanuel this upcoming season. Webb had double-digit kills in all but one match last season, including a match-high 25 kills in a non-conference victory against Limestone. In addition, Emmanuel went 4-6 last season against Conference Carolinas opponents. If the Lions can make the adjustment to their first full schedule against NCAA Division I-II opponents, this team should be in contention for a berth in the Conference Carolinas Tournament.