Six teams likely to make biggest record improvement in 2017

It’s a new year and there are plenty of reasons for college men’s volleyball teams to be optimistic.

Check out the college men’s volleyball teams that following challenging 2016 seasons could have the best record improvement in 2017.


UC Irvine
2016 record: 10-20
Reason for optimism: No team experienced more injuries to its starting lineup last season than UC Irvine. The Anteaters, though, enter the 2017 season finally healthy and added some of the top recruits in the nation. The Anteaters as the defending MPSF champions finished an injury-plagued 2016 season in eighth place in the MPSF and earned the final berth to the MPSF Tournament. Among the starters returning to the UC Irvine includes Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Preseason All-American outside attacker Tamhir Hershko. The 2015 All-American missed the majority of the 2016 season with an injury but still led the Anteaters with a 3.71 kills per game average. The Anteaters because of all the injuries moved Michael Saeta from their starting setter to opposite midway through season. Seata in his new role had double-digit kills in eight regular season matches, including a career-high 24 kills in non-conference matches versus both Loyola and George Mason. He also earned All-MPSF honors and was a finalist for the 2016 Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Server of the Year after having a conference-best 0.52 aces per game average. Along with both these players, UC Irvine adds middle attacker Scott Stadick to its starting lineup. The 7-foot freshman was the top ranked recruit in the nation and helped the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team during the summer earn a berth to the 2017 FIVB U21 World Championship. The Anteaters were predicted to finish the conference in fourth place in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll. The team under coach David Kniffin, though, has a history of continuing to improve throughout the season and start playing its best near the postseason.

Lees-McRae
2016 record: 1-25
Reason for optimism: To say coach Henry Chuang did not inherit a lot when he became the Lees-McRae head coach for the 2016 season would be significantly under-selling the situation. The Bobcats roster began the season with nine players on their roster and were so shorthanded at one point in the season Chuang played Lees-McRae lacrosse player who had joined the team. All those struggles last season, including going winless in Conference Carolinas play, could be far removed this year. Chuang brings in his first recruiting class, which features multiple incoming freshmen who competed in the USA Volleyball High Performance program. Outside attacker John Sobel also returns after ending last season in the nation’s 25 top with a 3.51 kills per game average. Expect the Bobcats to not only win their first conference match under Chuang but at the end of the season to be in contention for a berth to the eight-team Conference Carolinas Tournament.

Princeton
2016 record:
4-18
Reason for optimism: Princeton is back to being in contention for an EIVA Tournament berth. The Tigers finished last season in seventh place in the conference to miss the EIVA Tournament for the first time since the conference changed its postseason format in 2012. One of the biggest upgrades for Princeton in the off-season was at middle attacker. All-EIVA middle attacker Junior Oboh returns to the starting lineup after missing the entire 2016 season. Oboh ended the 2015 season in the conference’s top five with both a 1.01 blocks per game average and a .386 attack percentage. Freshman middle attacker George Huhmann also joins the Tigers Huhmann helped the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team win the NORCECA Continental Championship during the summer. The Tigers were picked in the conference’s preseason poll to finish the EIVA in fourth place. In addition, Princeton has six non-conference matches against teams not ranked in the preseason national coaches poll.


King
2016 record:
8-24
Reason for optimism: King is not only primed to have a big win increase compared to last year, but it could break the program’s single-season record for victories. King returns a majority of starters after overcoming several injuries last season to earn a berth to the eight-team Conference Carolinas Tournament. All-conference outside attacker Jeff Sprayberry was among the Conference Carolinas leaders last season averaging 3.65 kills per game and set a program single-season record with 420 kills. In addition setter Nick Drooker had a school-record 1,018 assists, while adding 232 digs and 65 blocks last season. The Tornado have two winning seasons in their program history. It opens the year, though, predicted in the conference’s preseason poll to finish in third place in the Conference Carolinas.

Charleston
2016 record:
4-24
Reason for optimism: The third-year program continues to have a new look as coach Ken Murczek takes over of the team. Murczek arrives to Charleston after guiding the North Texas women’s volleyball to two 20-win seasons and serving as the women’s volleyball head coach at Wake Forest for the last three seasons. Charleston in its inaugural EIVA season finished last year in eighth place and is still trying to get its first EIVA victory. Among the starters returning for Charleston include opposite Rajahl Moxey. Moxey was named to the preseason watch list for the Bryan Ivie Award after leading the Golden Eagles last season with a 2.05 kills per game average. In addition, Charleston in the off-season added international recruits from Poland and Trinidad. It also expanded its domestic recruiting base by getting commitments from Californian players. Charleston in the EIVA Preseason Coaches Poll was predicted to finish the conference in eighth place in the EIVA. While making the four-team EIVA Tournament may be a challenge, the Golden Eagles should be more competitive in the EIVA and have a successful non-conference season.

CSUN
2016 record:
14-15
Reason for optimism: It has been five years since CSUN made the postseason. With the starters returning for the Matadors, that streak could finally come to an end in 2016. Outside attacker Jakub Ciesla ended last season seventh in the MPSF last season with a 3.24 kills per game average. In addition, outside attacker Dimitar Kalchev as a freshman last season averaged 3.04 kills per game and had the nation’s third-best aces per game average at 0.45. Kalchev in his first college season earned Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Freshman All-American honors and was a finalist for the 2016 National Server of the Year. Along with its pin hitters, setter Sam Porter starting as a freshman had 1,015 assists last season — the 10th most assists in a single-season for CSUN during the rally scoring era. The Matadors have come close in recent years to qualifying for the postseason. CSUN entered the final week of the 2016 regular season with a chance to clinch a postseason berth but lost to UC Irvine to finish in ninth place in the MPSF. That experience and almost all the starters returning, though, makes CSUN a prime candidate to have a breakout season in 2017.