Who cares about safe preseason college men’s volleyball predictions — it’s time to make some big and bold calls.
With the regular season starting this weekend, Off the Block is making its annual bold predictions on everything from the teams that could go undefeated to who will pull off a big upset.
Check out the 10 preseason predictions from Off the Block for the 2016 season.
George Mason and Penn State will finish tied for first place — It has been more than two decades since a team besides Penn State won the EIVA regular season championship. That streak could be in jeopardy this year because of George Mason. The Patriots under new head coach Jay Hosack return multiple all-conference starters from their 2015 team that reached the EIVA Tournament finals. Penn State remains the preseason favorite to win the conference but will have to replace multiple All-American starters, including graduated All-American outside attacker Aaron Russell. Don’t be surprised if Penn State’s and George Mason’s only conference losses in 2016 are to each other and they finished the conference regular season tied for first place at 13-1.
Every team will have a conference loss — At least one team has finished the conference regular season undefeated in six of the last seven years, including Penn State accomplishing the feat last season. The increase depth in each of the four conferences, though, will make that accomplishment even more challenging in 2016. Multiple teams received first-place votes in each of the EIVA, MIVA and MPSF preseason coaches polls. In addition, several teams that finished last season atop the conference standings enter 2016 having to replace graduated All-American starters.
BYU will go undefeated at home in MPSF play — One of the best home court advantages will be on display in the upcoming season. BYU finished last season in fifth place in MPSF and returns Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Preseason All-American outside attackers Jake Langlois and Brenden Sander. Opposite Ben Patch, a Preseason First-Team All-American selection, also returns after missing the last two years to participate in a church mission. The Cougars were 12-2 at Smith Fieldhouse last season and had their 36-home match winning streak snapped in March. In addition, BYU had the nation’s second highest home attendance average in 2015.
Hulse to get most wins among new coaches — This was one of the most chaotic off-seasons for coaching moves in college men’s volleyball history as 11 schools changed head coaches. While several coaches will likely have immediate success, new Loyola coach Mark Hulse is primed to have a top-10 nationally ranked team throughout the entire season. No. 3 Loyola returns several starters from last year’s team that repeated as NCAA champions, including a nation-best three Preseason All-Americans. Loyola is one of three teams with a new head coach that were ranked in the preseason national coaches poll. The other two nationally ranked teams are USC under first-year coach Jeff Nygaard at No. 12 and George Mason with new head coach Jay Hosack at No. 14.
Mount Olive will beat EIVA, MIVA or MPSF team — The Trojans may have the best odds of any Conference Carolinas team to pull off a signature non-conference victory in 2016. Mount Olive will open its season at home against St. Francis and then will play four more non-conference matches versus EIVA, MIVA MPSF opponents during the regular season. All-conference middle attacker Andrew Sydow returns to the Trojans’ starting lineup after being third in the nation with a .461 attack percentage last season. In addition, opposite Bret Rutlege as a freshman in 2015 had a 3.13 kills per game average and 11 matches with double-digit kills.
NJIT will make EIVA Tournament — NJIT is poised to end its postseason drought and earn the program’s first berth to the EIVA Tournament since the format decreased to a four-team field in 2012. The Highlanders were tied for fourth place in the EIVA Preseason Coaches Poll released earlier this month — the program’s highest preseason ranking in recent history. All-EIVA outside attacker Jabarry Goodridge also returns for his junior season after being among the conference’s leaders with a 3.48 kills per game average last season. Outside attacker TJ Jurko had a 3.19 kills per game average, including a season-high 22 kills in a near upset victory against Penn State in March.
Ohio State will win multiple matches vs. MPSF — The Buckeyes will likely have one of the best strength of schedule rankings in the nation. It also will have several chances for signature non-conference victories. Ohio State will play four non-conference matches versus MPSF opponents, including playing No. 4 UCLA and No. 11 USC in the opening week of the season. The Buckeyes ended last season in third place in the MIVA and advanced to the conference tournament semifinals. Preseason All-American outside attacker Nicolas Szerszen was the 2015 MIVA Freshman of the Year and finished in the conference’s top 10 with both a 3.10 kills per game average and a .307 attack percentage. Along with Szerszen, outside attacker Miles Johnson returns after earning all-conference honors in 2015.
UC San Diego will win multiple MPSF matches — The near two-year long conference losing streak will not only come to an end for UC San Diego in 2016, but expect for the Tritons win at least two MPSF matches. Despite being on a 23-match MPSF losing streak dating back to 2014, the Tritons return six starters for the upcoming season. Opposite Tanner Syftestad as a freshman last season had a team-high 2.71 kills per game average and double-digit kills in 12 matches. Libero Tanner Howard also was selected to the preseason watch list for the Erik Shoji Award, which is presented to the nation’s top libero. Do not be shocked if this team under coach Kevin Ring pulls off one or two upsets before the end of the regular season.
UCLA will go undefeated in non-conference play — The Bruins have historically been one of the most difficult teams to beat in non-conference play and expect this year to be no different. Four of the Bruins’ six non-conference opponents are ranked in the preseason national coaches poll. However, UCLA returns a majority of its starters from last year’s team that was comprised primarily of freshmen and sophomores and qualified for the MPSF Tournament. Among the returning starters includes outside attackers and 2015 Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Freshmen All-American Team selections JT Hatch and Jake Arnitz. The Bruins also enter the season on an eight-match non-conference winning streak dating back to 2014.
McKendree will earn a postseason berth — The third-year program McKendree will continue to improve this upcoming season and will earn its first berth to the eight-team MIVA Tournament. The Bearcats in their inaugural season in the MIVA finished in last place and missed the 2015 conference tournament. However, the team in conference play upset IPFW for its first victory against a nationally ranked team. McKendree also returns several starters, including opposite Jared Wilcox. Wilcox as a freshman finished in the conference’s top 10 with a 3.05 kills per game average last season and was named to the preseason watch list for the 2016 Bryan Ivie Award.