NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament Preview

Story posted April 29, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Jon Draeger

After COVID-19 canceled all spring sporting events in 2020, the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament will return to action in Columbus, Ohio.

Seven teams have made the tournament by either winning their conference tournaments or sneaking in with an at-large bid. Only the MPSF conference and the Big West conference have two teams into this year’s tournament. As the road to a champion draws near, let’s take a look at the field of seven.

The opening round will feature the seventh-seeded Belmont Abbey Crusaders, winner of the Conference Carolinas, taking on the EIVA champions in the sixth-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions. These two teams will face off for the first time in their programs’ histories, considering this is the Crusaders’ first ever appearance in the tournament.

Both teams have that one outside hitter to rely on for kills, with Belmont Abbey’s Liam Maxwell and Penn State’s Cal Fisher scoring over 250 kills each. However, Penn State does have more lethal options to increase their attacking power, such as Brett Wildman and EIVA Freshman of the Year Michael Valenzi.

The Crusaders did take a long pause before their conference tournament, canceling their last nine games of the regular season. Once tournament play began, they cruised over North Greenville and Mount Olive to win the Conference Carolinas Championship, so Belmont Abbey played two games since their pause.

The winner of the opening round will move on to face the Lewis Flyers out of the MIVA. The Flyers are led by Ryan Coenen, who finished the year with 337 kills on a .346 attack percentage.

Lewis enters the tournament on a 12-match win streak, only dropping two sets to the Loyola Chicago Ramblers in the final match of the regular season during that span. The third-seeded Flyers look to create noise in this tournament with their strong attacks in system nearing 1,000 total team kills.

The fifth-seeded Pepperdine Waves face off against the third-seeded UC Santa Barbara Gauchos on May 4. Pepperdine looks to bring a championship back to the MPSF after failing to secure the conference championship to the BYU Cougars, while UC Santa Barbara secured its conference championship against UC San Diego in four sets.
For the Waves, Spencer Wickens will need to up his game if Pepperdine wants to advance to the weekend, as he leads the team with 219 kills. The Gauchos, on the other hand, look to senior setter Casey McGarry to prevent the potent attack Pepperdine brings as he leads UC Santa Barbara with 147 digs on the year.

The winner will move on to face the top team in the tournament — the Hawaii Rainbows. The Bows found themselves losing one match all season long, which happened to be in the Big West Tournament to the UC San Diego Tritons. The team had four players reach the 100-kill mark this season, with setter Jakob Thelle leading the assist category for Hawaii. They look to find revenge in the national tournament as the team-to-beat.

The champions of the MPSF, who are the second-seeded BYU Cougars, will wait to see who their opponent will be in the semifinal round along with Hawaii. They will have the opportunity to play either Penn State, Belmont Abbey, or Lewis.

The tandem of Gabi Garcia Fernandez and Davide Gardini have paved the way for BYU to earn its seeding, as the two combined for 505 kills, which amounts to 54.6% of the team's kills. If these two find a groove, the opponent will scramble to find answers for their attack.

The defense for the Cougars will be put to the test with some of the hardest hitting teams in the NCAA. BYU has three players amassing the 100-dig mark on the season, which can help spread the floor out if necessary.
With the field set, these seven teams will battle their way to a national championship. The week-long tournament will be a sweet one to watch since the volleyball community was robbed of a tournament last year.

 

Jonathan Draeger is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jrd6052@psu.edu.