Jonathan Bates | Associate Editor
There are plenty of developments that have made 2020 a year to forget, the least not being the men’s volleyball season being cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. There was some positive news that came out of 2020.
With it being the season of giving thanks, Off the Block has come up with a list of the top 10 things to be thankful for in 2020 in the world of collegiate men’s volleyball.
No. 1 Hawai’i reverse sweeps No. 2 BYU
Top two teams in the country? Check. Sold out 10,000 seat arena? Check. Three hours of drama and action? Check. The National Player of the Year serving 80 mile-per-hour aces? Check. Yes, all of this happened on March 6, the weekend before the season came to a screeching halt. The night before, BYU swept Hawai’i on the strength of a .602 attack percentage and eight aces from opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez. Fernandez was the nation’s leader with 56 aces but what made that stat all the more impressive was he did that against only 53 service errors. It looked like the Cougars would be on their way to another sweep on the second night in Manoa after they took the first two games, but Rainbow Warriors pulled out the match of the year by winning the final frame in overtime 19-17.
UC San Diego tied its program best for national ranking
The 2020 season was filled with milestones for UC San Diego, and not just because it became a full NCAA Division 1 member on July 1. UC San Diego in February was ranked No. 6 in the national polls, its highest national ranking ever. It defeated seven nationally-ranked squads (No. 3 UCLA, No. 5/6 UC Irvine, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Loyola, No. 13 Princeton, No. 14 Concordia-Irvine). Additionally, UC San Diego beat UC Irvine on the road to earn its first ever Big West win. All-American setter Connor Walbrecht’s 705 assists were the most of any player in the country, while he also led all Big West in digs. Between Feb. 4 and Feb. 28, the Tritons reeled off six consecutive victories, tying their longest win streak in program history.
No single player was a bigger shot in the arm to their program than junior college transfer Kyle McCauley was to UC San Diego. The outside attacker was a big reason for the Tritons’ 2020 campaign. McCauley was named a First Team All-American and the National Newcomer of the Year, both program firsts, as he led all Big West players in points and kills.
Ryan Coenen returning
Death, taxes and Ryan Coenen being named an All-American. The Lewis outside attacker was named to his fourth All-American team in 2020. When the NCAA announced, seniors could return for another year of eligibility in 2021, the 2020 MIVA Player of the Year announced he would be returning for his fifth year. This means Coenen has a chance to become the first five-time All-American in college men’s volleyball history.
Justin Lui going from libero to setter
It’s not ideal to have your libero become your setter, but that is what happened to Stanford when setters Nathan Lietzke and Paul Bischoff went down with injuries. Two nights after Justin Lui had 52 assists in a five-game loss to No. 8 Pepperdine, he quarterbacked the Cardinal to a sweep of No. 7 UCLA. Stanford hit .857 in the first set and never looked back.
Covelli Center opening
Ohio State played in St. John Arena for its 52 years of existence, but christened the brand new Covelli Center in 2021. The 3,700 seat arena, also home to the Buckeyes’ gymnastics, fencing, wrestling and women’s volleyball programs, will host the 2021 NCAA men’s volleyball championships as well as the 2025 championships. The $49 million dollar, 100,000-plus square foot arena was all funded by donors.
NAIA expands national championship field
While news of contraction dominated the offseason news cycle, some good news came out of the NAIA. The NAIA National Administrative Council voted in June to expand the men’s volleyball NAIA National Championship from eight to 12 teams starting in 2021. This expansion comes a year after the inaugural championship tournament and coincides with the recent NAIA men’s volleyball growth throughout the country. There were 47 NAIA men’s volleyball programs in 2020 — a 14-team increase since 2018 — and there will be more than 50 teams next season.
EIVA creates Racial Equity Council
The Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association announced in July that it created an EIVA Racial Equity Council. The EIVA Racial Equity Council, initially called the Minority Council and the first of its kind in collegiate men’s volleyball, will be co-chaired by a pair EIVA alumni: Junior Oboh (Princeton 2014-18) and EIVA Hall of Famer Tarik Rodgers (NJIT 1992-95). The pair are among 22 men from 10 schools on the initial council. Every current EIVA member program, as well as future member St. Francis Brooklyn, is represented by either an alumni or a current student-athlete.
While the full breadth has not been set for the council’s objectives, the group will have a number of goals. Among them include to help mentor current student-athletes, advise coaches in ways to engage and activate on the campus level, assist in the identification of potential student-athletes in minority communities, increase educational and athletic development opportunities for youths in those communities, retain athletic engagement, increase academic performance of student athletes while addressing the potential challenges of those from minority communities, and ensure leadership and coaching pathways for student-athletes of color. A driving force behind the creation of the council was Princeton coach Sam Shweisky.
First NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball program in Florida
Given the popularity of the sport and the amount of collegiate talent it produces on a yearly basis, the biggest hole in terms of states sponsoring NCAA men’s volleyball was Florida. With the assistance of s $100,000 grant from the First Point Volleyball Foundation, Edward Waters, an historically black college in Jacksonville, announced last month it will sponsor men’s volleyball starting in 2022. The Tigers are currently in transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
NCAA gives George Mason 2023 championship
The 2021 NCAA men’s volleyball championship will be at Ohio State and the 2022 championship will be at UCLA, but now the championship sites for 2023-2026 are set. Long Beach State, Ohio State, and UCLA were named hosts for the 2024, 2025, and 2026 seasons. George Mason was awarded the 2023 championship after its chance to host earlier this year was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.