Thanksgiving 2011: 11 things to be thankful about in college volleyball

It is the week of giving thanks and college men’s volleyball followers and fans can be thankful about plenty of things in the sport.

Whether it is a playoff format to determine a champion or the individuals returning for the upcoming season, there are many good things happening in the sport right now. It’s now time to give thanks to some of those things in college men’s volleyball.

Here’s the list of the 11 things in college men’s volleyball to be thankful about for Thanksgiving 2011.

1. The NCAA Tournament format
Unlike another NCAA sport, college men’s volleyball has the best way to determine its champion: a playoff. Fans will continue to debate on whether the NCAA Tournament should expand its four-team field, but the most important thing is that the championship is being decided on the court. In addition, the 2012 season will be the inaugural year for the men’s volleyball Division III NCAA Tournament.

2. Growth of men’s volleyball
College men’s volleyball continues to expand across the United States. The Conference Carolinas is an emerging conference and will become eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2014. More schools are also on the verge of joining the top conferences. Both Lindenwood and Cal Baptist are transitioning from the NAIA to the NCAA Division II and could be the newest conference additions in the next few years.


3. One more year of Scates
The winningest coach in NCAA volleyball history will be on the sidelines for one more season. Al Scates announced that he would retire in July 2012 following his 50th season as the head coach of the Bruins. The 2012 season will give fans the chance to see Scates coach his team one more time as he tries to guide the Bruins to their 20th NCAA championship.

4. Top outside attackers returning
Ten of the top 15 players who led the nation in kills per game average last year will return for the 2012 season. Among these players includes All-Americans Carson Clark, Joe Sunder, Brad Lawson Mike Bunting and Robb Stowell. In addition, USC outside attacker Tony Ciarelli and BYU outside attacker Taylor Sander return after leading the United States in kills at international tournaments this summer.

5. Marquee non-conference matches
Teams have scheduled some highly intriguing non-conference matches for the 2012 season. Penn State traveling to play USC and BYU and Stanford traveling to a play Ohio State highlights the non-conference slate. Lewis, Loyola, IPFW and George Mason will also travel to the West Coast to play nationally ranked teams in non-conference play.

6. Potential freshmen standouts
If the World Championships and Youth World Championships this summer was any indication, there are several players who could excel as freshman this upcoming season. USC freshman setter Micah Christenson and Pepperdine freshman outside attacker Josh Taylor helped lead the United States to a fourth-place finish at the World Championships. Loyola freshman outside attacker Cody Caldwell, the 2011 Volleyball Magazine High School Player of the Year, helped the United States finish in 11th place at the Youth World Championships.

7. Race for the MIVA title
The MIVA is the only conference without a clear-cut preseason favorite to win its conference championship. Ohio State won its fourth consecutive MIVA title en route to the NCAA championship last season but is replacing a majority of its starting lineup. In contrast, Loyola and Lewis return a majority of their starters and ended last season in the national rankings. This has the potential to be one of the tightest MIVA regular seasons in recent history

8. The MPSF uncertainty
BYU will be No. 1 in the preseason polls and the favorite to win the MPSF championship. After that it’s pretty much an unknown on how teams could fare in the MPSF this upcoming season. The depth in the conference will create additional drama in the regular season as teams battle to just get into the MPSF Tournament.

9. The era of dynasties
Penn State and Ohio State in recent years have created two of the greatest dynasties in their conferences’ histories. Penn State enters the upcoming season having won 13 consecutive EIVA championships and is undefeated in conference play since 2008. In addition, Ohio State has the chance this season to become the first team in MIVA history to win six consecutive MIVA regular season championships. Even if you’re not a fan of these teams, the historical significance of what these teams have accomplished is impressive.

10. Sports information directors
This is the part of my post where I suck up to the sports information directors for helping me set up interviews with all the players and coaches. In all truthfulness, though, men’s volleyball has some of the best sports information directors in college sports. These individuals do a great job working with media and getting information out about their teams to help publicize the sport.

11. The fans
Men’s volleyball has one of the most passionate and knowledgeable fan bases in all of college sports. Yes, men’s volleyball does not have a large following compared to the revenue-generating college sports. However, you would be hard pressed to find many other sports that have their fans care more about their teams than men’s volleyball fans.

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