Friday, February 28, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5 Previews and Predictions



by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at offtheblockblog.com and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.

A showdown between two top-five nationally ranked teams highlights this weekend's slate of college men's volleyball matches as No. 2 BYU takes on No. 4 Pepperdine. In addition, No. 3 UCLA plays host to No. 11 Hawai'i in a critical weekend series with possible NCAA Tournament implications.

Check out what to know and the predictions for the top college men's volleyball matches this weekend.

TO KNOW

CU-Irvine Athletics
Player: Hunter Stevens, George Mason middle attacker -- Stevens had 13 combined blocks  in George Mason's conference victories last weekend against NJIT and Rutgers-Newark and was named the EIVA Defensive Player of the Week. In addition, Stevens entered the week leading the nation with a 1.63 blocks per game average.

Coach: Shawn Patchell, Concordia-Irvine -- Former BYU head coach Patchell guided Concordia last weekend to become the first NAIA team to win the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic. Concordia at the annual non-conference tournament swept Princeton in the semifinals and beat Springfield in the championship.

Stat: No. 1 Loyola midway through the regular season has yet to lose a conference match. A team, though, playing in a non-division conference format has not gone undefeated in MIVA play since IPFW in 1992


No. 2 BYU (10-3, 10-1 MPSF) vs. No. 4 Pepperdine (9-3, 9-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Provo, Utah
What to know: BYU will get its chance to avenge its only conference loss so far this season. First place BYU will continue its weekend home stand as it plays host to Pepperdine weeks after the Waves won the first meeting in five games. The Cougars following that loss have won their last four matches, and the team enters the weekend with a half-match led on second-place No. 3 UCLA in the MPSF standings. In addition, All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander had a season-high 27 kills in BYU's last match as it defeated Stanford on the road in five games. However, Pepperdine leads the MPSF and is second in the nation with a 3.05 blocks per game average, including having 15 blocks in its win against BYU. Middle attacker Nikola Antonijevic is also fourth in the nation averaging 1.43 blocks per game. This match could also have significant ramifications at the end of the season as both teams battle for a possible spot in the NCAA Tournament. Among the factors the selection committee uses to determine the two at-large bids and seeding for the tournament field include head-to-head record and record against teams under consideration for a tournament berth.

Prediction: BYU def. Pepperdine in five games

UCLA Athletics
No. 3 UCLA (13-3, 10-2 MPSF) vs. No. 11 Hawai'i (9-6, 7-5 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Honolulu
What to know: If Hawai'i has any hope of remaining in the race for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, its upcoming two-match series against UCLA is a near must win. With 12 remaining regular season matches, the Rainbow Warriors are in seventh place in the MPSF and two-and-half matches out of first-place. In addition, Hawai'i is coming off of two road losses to USC last weekend as the Trojans had more than a .300 attack percentage in both matches. Middle attacker Taylor Averill, though, is second in the nation with a .485 attack percentage and eighth in the nation averaging 1.27 blocks per game. In addition, Hawai'i is 7-2 at home midway through the season but one of those losses came against UCLA at the Outrigger Invitational. The Bruins have won their last three matches and defeated Stanford in five games on the road Monday. Outside attacker Gonzalo Quiroga in that victory led UCLA with a season-high 21 kills. The All-American senior also enters this weekend with a conference-best 0.57 aces per game average.

Prediction: UCLA def. Hawai'i in five games

No. 10 Penn State (12-2, 5-0 EIVA) vs. Princeton (3-6, 2-1 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Princeton, N.J.
Princeton Athletics
What to know: Princeton coach Sam Shweisky said in a recent interview with Off the Block that
he has built the right culture within his program and developed the right type of players who are capable of beating Penn State. Shweisky and his team will now have its opportunity to upset the 15-time defending EIVA champions. Princeton, despite being 1-5 in non-conference play so far this season, jumped into third place in the EIVA after it swept Rutgers-Newark on Tuesday. Outside attacker Cody Kessel also had a season-high 26 kills and more than a .500 attack percentage in a three-game loss to Concorida-Irvine in the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic last weekend. Penn State enters the weekend on a nation-best 12-match winning streak and has swept its last six matches with its last game loss occurring Feb. 5 to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions, though, just completed a season-long 11-match homestand and this will be their first road match since the opening weeks of the regular season. In addition, outside attacker Aaron Russell, the reigning EIVA Player of the Year, leads the conference and is among the national leaders with a 3.83 kills per game average.

Prediction: Penn State def. Princeton in five games

No. 5 Long Beach State (9-4, 8-4 MPSF) vs. No. 8 Stanford (9-6, 6-6 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: Two of the top offensive teams in the nation will go up against each other as Long Beach State plays host to Stanford. The two teams are among the conference and national leaders with both more than a .300 attack percentage on the season. In addition, Long Beach State outside attacker Taylor Crabb leads the nation with a 4.96 kills per game average and has at least 15 kills in seven of the 49ers' last eight matches. Stanford is one of three teams with multiple players in the top 15 of the MPSF for kills. Opposite Steven Irvin is 10th in the conference with a 3.42 kills per game average, while outside attacker Brian Cook is in 12th averaging 3.32 kills per game. Stanford also set a rally-scoring era program record with a 21.5 blocks in a sweep against UC Santa Barbara last weekend.

Prediction: Stanford def. Long Beach State in five games

StanfordPhoto,com

No. 14 Ball State (8-5, 4-2 MIVA) vs. Mount Olive (7-7, 6-3 CC)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Muncie, Ind.
What to know: A team from the Conference Carolinas has never defeated a nationally ranked team. In order to change that stat, Mount Olive will have to accomplish the feat against a team coming off one of its biggest victories of the season. Ball State begins its season-long home stand after rallying from a one-game road deficit to defeat its conference rival Ohio State on Wednesday. All-American middle attacker Matt Leske in the victory had a match-high 11 block and moved up in the nation's top 10 for blocks per game average. In addition, outside attacker Shane Witmer started in place of injured all-conference outside attacker Larry Wrather and had a career-high 17 kills. Mount Olive is in second place in the Conference Carolinas and has won six of its last seven matches. However, the teams is 0-3 against the MIVA this season. In addition, all-conference outside attacker Angel Dache leads the Trojans and is second in the Conference Carolinas with a 4.35 kills per game average.

Prediction: Ball State def. Mount Olive in four games

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My experience trying out for the USA National Team

by Caleah Wells, sophomore middle blocker for West Virginia University.
Caleah traveled to Colorado Springs last weekend to participate in tryouts for the United States National Team, and she agreed to share her experience with us!

Initially signing up for the USA tryouts, I couldn't tell who was more excited, me or my mother. After telling my mom about how my coach (Jill Kramer) asked me to go to the tryout, she was very encouraging. She would explain how great of an experience it would be for me. Though I didn't feel very nervous about the tryout, looking back I probably was. I was only going to the Olympic Training Center to play volleyball with the best of the best in front of the USA National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly...no big deal! Who would be nervous about that?

The morning of departure, my teammates and I arrived at the gym at seven in the morning. Our coach met us there to drive us to the airport. Getting on the plane I became very anxious, so I put my head phones on and listened to some calming music to get me in the right frame of mind. I was ready to compete! 

We flew into Denver with plenty of time to stop downtown and sit down to eat. My coach was familiar with the area so we were able to eat at a cute little market. After we enjoyed our meal it was time to head to Colorado Springs, which is about an hour south. Of course I was DJ, so I played some pump up music in the car to get us AMPED for the first day of tryouts!

We're ready to go!
Arriving to the Training Center, we all looked around in awe! It was so surreal. We were in the place where the greats trained! After checking in, of course my teammates and I wanted to go to the gift shop. We bought things for ourselves, family, and even people back at school. After shopping we went to our different rooms, dressed, then headed to the cafeteria for a quick snack. Little did I know they would have dinner ready. When I sat down to eat I began to meet some of the other girls who came to the tryout. Many schools from across the country were well represented from all sizes and all conferences. When we got in the gym none of that mattered, we all had the same three letters on our back: USA. 

We couldn't go the Olympic Training Center and not take a picture with/in the rings!
It was refreshing to play with other girls from around the country. Because we are all in that part of the year where we are not allowed to play other teams, it was great to get in the gym and compete with the best of the best. After we were done in the gym, we ate again and prepared for bed. I met my outside hitting roommate from Michigan Ally Davis, and it was great to talk about our seasons and how much we enjoyed our sport and teammates. 

All of us getting instructions. This looks like a scene straight out of every volleyball camp.
The next day was another full day of volleyball. The first session was a lot of serve and pass and working on setting the middle. Obviously I completely enjoyed myself in the middle drills. It was great seeing some of the best middles in the country and competing with them. It  was somewhat of a challenge working with the setters. Every setter sets their middles differently, so to be able to communicate and work with them to expose our talents was our top priority. They all were willing to listen to what you needed, and that made things much easier

The last day was complete filled with volleyball (isn't this the life?). They created teams and we all scrimmaged against one another. After the last game, it was somewhat saddening realizing the experience was over. To end the day my team and I took several pictures around the training center. 

My overall experience was a learning one. I am so excited to get back in the gym to better my skills. I learned so much about myself and what I need to do to be a GREAT volleyball player. GO USA!!!!!

Nailed it.

 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5 Previews and Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at offtheblockblog.com and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.



The return of an All-American highlights this week's top college men's volleyball matches as No. 8 USC plays host to No. 11 Hawai'i in the marquee match. In addition, out in the Midwest No. 1 Loyola will take its undefeated conference record on the road with a match against No. 13 Ball State.

Check out what to know and the predictions for the top college men's volleyball matches this weekend.


TO KNOW

Player: Michael Michelau, Erskine outside attacker -- Michelau leads the Conference Carolinas with a 4.54 kills per game average and has double-digit kills in every match he's played so far this season. Erskine is in first place in the Conference Carolinas and has a half-match lead on second-place Mount Olive.

Coach: Hadley Foster, Quincy -- Foster picked up his 150th career victory at the college level as Quincy defeated the first-year program McKendree in four games on Tuesday. Foster is in his eighth season as the Hawks head coach.

Stat: All-American outside attacker Taylor Crabb has at least 15 kills in six consecutive matches for the 49ers. Long Beach State's next match will be against winless UC San Diego on Friday.

THE GAMES AND PICKS

Daily Trojan
No. 8 USC (7-5, 6-5 MPSF) vs. No. 11 Hawai'i (9-4, 7-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: All-American setter Micah Christenson will be back on the court when USC opens its two-match home series against Hawai'i. USC coach Bill Ferguson told the Daily Trojan earlier this week that Christenson would be back in the starting lineup after missing the team's last two matches with a back injury. Christenson, a two-time All-American, is second in the conference with an 11.72 assists per game average. The junior also was among the preseason favorites for the Lloy Ball Award, which is presented to the nation's top setter in college men's volleyball, after he spent the off-season playing with the U.S. Men's National Team. USC enters this home series in seventh place in the MPSF and 1.5 matches behind third-place Hawai'i. The Rainbow Warriors are on a four-match winning streak but have not won at USC since 2010. In addition, Hawai'i middle attackers Taylor Averill and Nick West are in the conference's top 10 with each having more than .420 attack percentage.

Prediction: Hawai'i def. USC in five games.

No. 5 UC Santa Barbara (8-3, 7-3 MPSF) vs. No. 9 Stanford (8-5, 5-5 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Palo Alto, Calif.
What to know: The Gauchos are becoming living proof that preseason polls mean nothing. Despite being picked in the MPSF preseason coaches poll to finish the in seventh place, UC Santa Barbara is tied for third place entering its road match against Stanford. In addition, the Gauchos have won five of their last six matches, including two consecutive victories against top 10 nationally ranked teams. This match will also feature the conference's top offense against the conference's top defense. UC Santa Barbara is holding opponents to a conference-best .197 attack percentage, while Standing is at a conference-best .323 attack percentage. Stanford had its four-match winning streak snapped with a loss to No. 2 BYU last weekend. The Cardinal also lost on the road to the Gauchos in five games earlier in the season.

Prediction: Stanford def. UC Santa Barbara in five games.


No. 1 Loyola (11-1, 4-0 MIVA) vs. No. 13 Ball State (7-3, 3-0 MIVA) 


Match vitals: 7 p.m. Thursday in Muncie, Ind.
What to know: It's been 19 years since the Cardinals last beat a team ranked No. 1, but Ball State will have a chance to achieve the feat on its home court as the team plays host to Loyola. Both the Ramblers and Cardinals are two of four teams in the nation still undefeated in conference play. In addition, Loyola is on a conference-best nine-match winning streak, including two road victories against Grand Canyon last weekend. All-American outside attacker Joseph Smalzer in those two sweeps had a combined 30 kills and is now fourth in the MIVA with a 3.47 kills per game average. Ball State after opening its season 1-3 is on a six-match winning streak. Middle attacker Matt Leske is third in the conference with a 1.29 blocks per game average and was named the MIVA Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday. This will also be the first meeting between the two teams since Loyola beat Ball State last season in the MIVA Tournament semifinals.

Prediction: Loyola def. Ball State in five games.

No. 12 Penn State (10-2, 3-0 EIVA) vs. (RV) Harvard (4-3, 3-3 EIVA)
Match vitals: 3 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pa.
PSU Athletics
What to know: A budding conference rivalry will be renewed as Penn State plays host to Harvard in a battle for sole possession of first place in the EIVA. The Crimson last season snapped the Nittany Lions' five-year, 60-match conference winning streak. However, Penn State recovered from the regular season loss and later that season defeated Harvard in the EIVA championship to win its 15th consecutive conference title. Both teams enter the weekend undefeated in conference play and have been the only two EIVA teams ranked in the AVCA coaches poll this season. Penn State is on a nation-best 10-match winning streak and has won the first nine matches of its season-long 11-match homestand. In addition, outside attackers Aaron Russell leads the EIVA with 23 aces, while outside attacker Nick Goodell is tied for second in the conference with 17 aces. Harvard enters this weekend on a four-match winning streak, including a five-game win against its rival Princeton last week.

Prediction: Penn State def. Harvard in four games.

Princeton (1-5, 1-1 EIVA) vs. Concordia-Irvine (11-3)
Match vitals: 6 p.m. Friday in Springfield, Mass.
What to know: One of the oldest non-conference tournaments in college men's volleyball will open with Princeton playing the defending NAIA champions Concordia-Irvine. The two teams will meet in the semifinals of the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic and are both making their first appearance in the annual non-conference tournament. Princeton enters the Morgan Classic after sweeping Sacred Heart last week to snap its five-match losing streak to open the season. Four of Princeton's five losses were decided in a decisive fifth-game, including a road loss to Concordia-Irvine in January. In addition, Tigers outside attacker Pat Schwagler is third in the EIVA averaging 3.38 kills per game. The winner of this semifinal match will also advance to championship match on Saturday and will face the winner of the other semifinal match Friday between Springfield, the defending NCAA Division III champions, and UC Santa Cruz.

Prediction: Princeton def. Concordia-Irvine in four games.


Beverly Schaefer
 



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5 Previews and Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at offtheblockblog.com and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.



A showdown between one of the top defensive teams in the nation and the defending AVCA National Player of the Year highlights the college men's volleyball weekend schedule as No. 7 UC Santa Barbara plays host to No. 6 Long Beach State. In addition, out in the Midwest No. 10 Lewis and No. 14 Ohio State both look to recover from early-season conference losses.

Check out what to know and the predictions for the top college men's volleyball matches this weekend.


TO KNOW 

Player: Christy Blough, Ohio State setter -- The freshman setter had a career-high 57 assists in a four-game victory against St. Francis on Sunday and was named the Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Co-National Freshman of the Week.

Photo courtesy Barton Athletics
Coach: Jeff Lennox, Barton -- Lennox guided Barton to a five-game conference victory against Lees-McRae on Saturday. Barton at 3-7 has now already surpassed its combined win total from the first two years of the program that started in 2012.

Stat: Penn State, which is on a nation-best eight-match winning streak, will play host to NJIT in conference play  Friday. The Nittany Lions have not lost to the Highlanders in 15 years and during that stretch it has dropped two games to NJIT.

THE GAMES

Photo courtesy LBSU Athletics
No. 6 Long Beach State (7-3, 6-3 MPSF) vs. No. 7 UC Santa Barbara (7-3, 6-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Santa Barbara, Calif.
What to know: The top defensive team in the conference will try to slow one of the top offensive players in the nation as Long Beach State travels to UC Santa Barbara. All-American outside attacker Taylor Crabb (left) entered the week leading the nation with a 4.83 kills per game average. Crabb also had a match-high 27 kills as Long Beach State upset No. 2 UCLA on Wednesday to extend its winning streak to a conference-best four matches. UC Santa Barbara is leading the MPSF holding opponents to a .202 attack percentage. In addition, the team in its sweep against Cal State Northridge on Wednesday out-hit the Matadors .298 to .068. Middle attackers Jake Staahl and Ryan Thompson are also both in the MPSF's top five in blocks per game average. 

Prediction: Long Beach State def. UC Santa Barbara in five games

No. 4 BYU (8-3, 8-1 MPSF) vs. No. 8 Stanford (7-4, 4-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.
What to know: BYU has a chance to extend its first-place lead in the MPSF this weekend but in order to do that it will have to get a road victory against Stanford. The team has a one-match lead on second-place UCLA in the conference. However, the Cougars' only conference loss this season came on the road. Stanford has won five of its last six matches to jump back into contention for a potential top finish in the conference. Stanford outside attacker Eric Mochalski was also named the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week after having 12 kills and a match-best .526 attack percentage in a sweep against No. 9 UC Irvine during the weekend. This will also be the second meeting between the two teams after BYU at home defeated Stanford in four games in January. All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander in that victory had a match-high 18 kills  and five blocks.

Photo courtesy Stanford Athletics

Prediction: Stanford def. BYU in five games

No. 10 Lewis (8-3, 1-0 MIVA) vs. No. 14 Ohio State (5-5, 2-1 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Columbus, Ohio
What to know: It may be early in the MIVA season, but Ohio State and Lewis can't afford another loss as they try to keep pace with No. 1 Loyola. Both the Buckeyes and Flyers lost to the Ramblers in the opening weeks of the conference season -- each team's only MIVA loss so far.  Ohio State enters this conference match after defeating St. Francis in four games Sunday to begin its four-match homestand and to snap its two-match losing streak. Middle attacker Driss Guessous leads the MIVA with a .468 attack percentage and had a season-high 16 kills against St. Francis. Guessous was also named the MIVA Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday. Lewis begins a stretch of four of its next five conference matches being on the road. However, Lewis outside attacker Greg Petty and Geoff Powell are both in the conference's top 10 in kills per game average. 

Prediction: Lewis def. Ohio State in five games

IPFW (5-2, 0-1 MIVA) vs. Lindenwood (8-2, 3-1 MIVA)
 
 

Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in St. Charles, Mo.
What to know: It's a third of the way through the season and Lindenwood continues to be one of the biggest surprise teams in the nation. In its second year in the MIVA,  Lindenwood is on a conference-best seven-match winning streak and in third place as it prepares to play host to IPFW. The Lions are second in the conference with a .338 attack percentage and outside attackers Collin Hackworth and Michael Adams are in the conference's top five each averaging more than 3.25 kills per game. Similar to Lindenwood, IPFW has exceeded preseason expectations and has won three of its last four matches. IPFW setter Omar Rivera is also second in the MPSF with a 10.93 assists per game average and only trails Lindenwood setter Tim Schmidt for the conference lead in assists per game average.

Prediction: IPFW def. Lindenwood in five games

Photo Jessica Homrich/Ka Leo O Hawai'i
No. 11 Hawai'i (8-4, 6-3 MPSF) vs. Cal Baptist (3-8, 2-7 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Honolulu
What to know: Hawai'i and Cal Baptist will conclude their two-match conference series after the Rainbow Warriors defeated the Lancers in four games in the series opener Wednesday. Middle attacker Taylor Averill (right) in the victory led all players with a career-high 12 blocks. Averill was also one of three Hawai'i players to finish with double-digit kills, including outside attacker Sinisa Zarkovic who had a team-high 12 kills. Hawai'i enters the series finale on a three-match winning streak and is tied for fourth place the MPSF. Cal Baptist has lost four of its last five conference matches. However, outside attacker Johannes Brink in the loss to Hawai'i had a match-high 14 kills. 

Prediction: Hawai'i def. Cal Baptist in four games