There are some teams that no one is talking about but could surprise people by the end of the season.
Whether it was UC Santa Barbara’s run to the NCAA championship match last season or Juniata reaching the EIVA championship match in 2009, there are always men’s volleyball teams each season that pleasantly surprise everyone in the nation.
Several teams last season that did not reach their conference tournament or finished outside of the national rankings could have a big season in 2012.
Below are the five teams that no one is talking about but could surprise some people this upcoming season.
THE FIVE SURPRISE TEAMS OF 2012
It’s been 10 years since the Cardinals reached their last Final Four — the longest drought in their program history. Ball State will be a dark horse to win the MIVA this year but expect the team to be improved from last season when it was upset in the MIVA Tournament quarterfinals. The Cardinals returning five starters, including All-MIVA outside attacker Larry Wrather. In addition, Graham McIlvaine returns after being the team’s starting setter as a freshman last season. If Ball State can replace its All-American middle attackers J.D. Gasparovic and Andres Nelson, who both graduated in 2011, and get consistent production from its outside attackers, this team can contend in the MIVA.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
As quick as the drop off was for Cal State Northridge from being a Final Four caliber team, the rise back to the top could be just as quick. Cal State Northridge one year after reaching the 2010 Final Four finished last season tied for last place in the MPSF. Coach Jeff Campbell has four returning starters for the upcoming season. In addition, former All-MPSF setter Matt Stork will move to outside attacker this season. The Matadors in the preseason went 8-1, including going undefeated at the USC Fall Invitational. Cal State Northridge also was projected to finish the conference in sixth place in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll.
If people learned anything about Lees-McRae last season it was that this team had a knack for playing well in non-conference play. Lees-McRae defeated Ball State in five games to become the first Conference Carolinas team to beat one of the top MIVA team. It also almost had the upset of 2011 when it lost to Penn State in five games. Lees-McRae returns a majority of its starting lineup from last season and will play five non-conference matches against MIVA, EIVA and West Coast teams. Among these non-conference matches includes a road match against Ohio State and participating in the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic.
The Tigers last season finished tied for last place in the MPSF but won more conference matches, six, than they had won combined in the previous three years. Coach Joe Wortmann returns a majority of his starting lineup from last season, including Off the Block Preseason All-American outside attacker Taylor Hughes and 2011 All-MPSF honorable mention libero Javier Caceres. Pacific has not reached the MPSF Tournament since 2003. It will be tough for the Tigers to get one of the eight berths to the MPSF Tournament. However, this could be the surprise team that remains in contention for the MPSF Tournament throughout the season.
Sacred Heart has the potential to be one of the best programs this season that no one knows anything about. The Pioneers were projected to finish third in the EIVA in the conference’s preseason coaches poll after they finished last season in third place in the EIVA Hay Division. Sacred Heart has four starters returning, including outside attacker Enzo Mackenzie who was named to the Second-Team All-EIVA as a freshman. The team also has been strong at home in previous years. Sacred Heart last season was 7-2 in Fairfield, Conn., including a non-conference upset victory against IPFW.