2013 Men’s Volleyball Season Preview

BYU's Russ Lavaja led last year's squad in blocks.

It’s that time of year again – men’s volleyball season! VBM asked coaches and media professionals around the country who they thought were going to be the top teams and players of the 2013 season. All three conferences were represented and the same players kept coming up in the conversation for National Player of the Year. We’ve compiled the data for you, so read on to learn more about race for the 2013 men’s volleyball title.

Brigham Young

2012 Record: 24-7
2012 Postseason: 3-1 loss to Stanford in the MPSF Semifinals
Head Coach: Chris McGown
Career Record: 24-7 (second season)
Key Returners: Russ Lavaja (Sr., MB, 6'7"), Josue Rivera (So., OH, 6'3"), Taylor Sander (Jr., OH, 6'4"), Jaylen Reyes (So., L, 6'1")
Key Losses: Futi Tavana (MB), Robb Stowell (Opp.), Joe Kauliakamoa (S)

Snapshot: The Cougars boast arguably the best player in the country in Taylor Sander along with 11 other returners and 8 newcomers. Last year, Sander averaged 4.89 kills per set on .395 hitting but BYU will need to contend with the losses of Futi Tavana (145 total blocks), Robb Stowell (389 kills, second on the team), and Joe Kauliakamoa (set the team to a .323 hitting percentage). Also back for the Cougars is Russ Lavaja, who led the squad with 168 total blocks, good for 1.42 blocks per set, Josue Rivera, who ranked third on the team in kills with 257 while picking up a team high 186 digs, and Jaylen Reyes, who averaged 1.62 digs per set last season.

Lewis

2012 Record: 26-7
2012 Postseason: 3-1 loss to USC in the NCAA Semifinals
Head Coach: Dan Friend
Career Record: 310-179 (16th season)
Key Returners: Jay Petty (Sr., OH, 6'6"), BJ Boldog (Jr., S, 6'4"), Greg Petty (So., OH, 6'6"), Geoff Powell (So., OH, 6'4")
Key Losses: Aaron Flick (MB), Matt Gallik (MB), Eric Varney (L)

Snapshot: The Flyers return a strong core from last year’s NCAA Semifinal squad, including team kill leader Jay Petty (421 kills, .318 hitting) and talented setter BJ Boldog (10.76 assists per set, .321 team hitting percentage). Lewis also gains the services of nine freshmen or redshirt freshmen, who will be tasked with helping replace the heavy losses on the defensive end, including Aaron Flick (104 total blocks), Matt Gallik (127 total blocks) and Eric Varney (176 digs). The Flyers will be tested early, visiting BYU and Penn State in January.

Long Beach State

2012 Record: 15-15
2012 Postseason: 3-2 loss to BYU in the MPSF Quarterfinals
Head Coach: Alan Knipe
Career Record: 169-103 (nine years)
Key Returners: Taylor Crabb (Jr., OH, 6'0"), Trevor Crabb (Sr., OH, 6'4"), Jeff Ornee (Jr., MB, 6'8"), Colten Echave (Sr., MB, 6'7"), Connor Olbright (Jr., S, 6'4")
Key Losses: Jim Baughman (Opp.), Kyle McElderry (L), Brad Hemmerling (OH), Srdjan Nadazdin (Opp.), Ryan Meehan (MB)

Snapshot: Head Coach Alan Knipe returns to the sidelines after taking a leave of absence to coach the U.S. Men’s Olympic team in London. Also back for the 49ers are three starters and nine letterwinners, including team kill leader Taylor Crabb (303 kills), team block leader Jeff Ornee (110 total blocks), and setter Connor Olbright (10.40 assists per game). Long Beach State will need to contend with the losses of several key players, including Jim Baughman (230 kills), Brad Hemmerling (211 kills, 158 digs) and team digs leader Kyle McElderry (211 digs). While they were picked to finish sixth in the MPSF, one league coach called the squad a “dark horse,” noting the team looked good during the fall season.

Ohio State

2012 Record: 21-9
2012 Postseason: 3-2 loss to Lewis in the MIVA Finals
Head Coach: Pete Hanson
Career Record: 562-297 (28 seasons)
Key Returners: Peter Heinen (So., S, 6'4"), Grayson Overman (Sr., MB, 6'7"), Michael Piechowski (Jr., L, 5'10"), John Tholen (Sr., MB, 6'6")
Key Losses: Mik Berzins (OH), Shawn Sangrey (Opp.)

Snapshot: Ohio State returns a talented and physical group that lost a five-set heartbreaker to Lewis in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Championship match. One coach observed that the Buckeyes may struggle early trying to replace their top two offensive threats from last year in Shawn Sangrey (548 kills) and Mik Berzins (278 kills), but the squad should progress and be much better by the end of the season. Grayson Overman is the team’s top returning offensive producer with 141 kills and also last season’s leading blocker (123 blocks). The Buckeyes also bring back setter Peter Heinen (10.67 assists per set), libero Michael Piechowski (119 digs), and middle blocker John Tholen (88 total blocks), along with a good group of young players who could make an immediate impact, including libero Brennan Anderson and opposite Andrew Lutz.

Penn State

2012 Record: 23-6
2012 Postseason: 3-1 loss to UC Irvine in the NCAA Semifinals
Head Coach: Mark Pavlik
Career Record: 437-126 (18 seasons)
Key Returners: Connor Curry (So., L, 6'0"), Nick Goodell (So., OH, 6'4"), Aaron Russell (So., MB, 6'9"), Peter Russell (Jr., OH, 6'5"), Nick Turko (Sr., MB, 6'5"), Tom Comfort (Sr., Opp., 6'6")
Key Losses: Edgardo Goas (S), Joe Sunder (OH)

Snapshot: Penn State returns 6 starters and 10 letterwinners from last year’s NCAA Semifinal squad that took a game off the eventual champion Anteaters. The Nittany Lions also add in five newcomers that all stand 6’4’’ or better and also gain the services of 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Taylor Hammond as setter and 6-foot-9 Matt Seifert in the middle. Penn State will have to contend with the losses of Joe Sunder (338 kills) and Edgardo Goas (11.11 assists per set, .318 hitting percentage) but bring back Nick Goodell (237 kills) and Aaron Russell (203 kills, 92 blocks), along with Connor Curry (225 digs) on the defense. The Lions will know where they stand early as they travel to the islands to take on UCLA, Hawaii, and Ohio State to kick off the season, and then return home to host Lewis and Loyola.

Pepperdine

2012 Record: 14-15
2012 Postseason: 3-1 loss to Stanford in the MPSF Quarterfinals
Head Coach: Marv Dunphy
Career Record: 532-229 (29 seasons)
Key Returners: Maurice Torres (Sr., Opp., 6'7"), Matt West (So., S, 6'5"), Josh Taylor (So., OH, 6'7")
Key Losses: Matt Pollock (MB), Chase Ross (OH)

Snapshot: Last year Pepperdine finished eighth in the MPSF with a 9-13 league record, but the Waves had a huge freshman class who started and gained invaluable experience, which helps to explain the third-place preseason pick in the MPSF poll this season. Maurice Torres and Josh Taylor, who led the offense last year with 450 and 363 kills, respectively, are back, as is setter Matt West (11.38 assists per game), and libero Mike McMahon (116 digs), along with several other players who saw significant action last year. The Waves will have to contend with the loss of Chase Ross (230 kills, 125 digs) and Matt Pollock (225 kills, team high 129 blocks) and will get tested early as they open with UC Irvine on Jan. 8 and play only one non-conference match after that.

Stanford

2012 Record: 22-7
2012 Postseason: 3-2 loss to UC Irvine in the MPSF Championship
Head Coach: John Kosty
Career Record: 106-69 (six seasons)
Key Returners: Brian Cook (Jr., OH, 6'5"), Steven Irvin (Jr., OH, 6'5"), Eric Mochalski (Jr., MB, 6'5"), Jake Kneller (Jr., OH, 6'1")
Key Losses: Erik Shoji (L), Brad Lawson (OH), Evan Barry (S), Gus Ellis (MH)

Snapshot: The Cardinal bring back three starters and nine letterwinners to a squad that fell in five sets in the MPSF Final to eventual national champion UC Irvine. The league coaches picked Stanford to finish fourth, but the Cardinal will need to fill a lot of holes left by graduation. Gone are Erik Shoji (304 digs), the first-ever four-time AVCA First Team All-American, and Brad Lawson (451 kills), a three-time AVCA First Team All-American, along with key players Evan Barry (12.04 assists per set) and Gus Ellis (101 blocks). But remaining for Stanford are three of the four top offensive producers in Brian Cook (367 kills), Steven Irvin (324 kills), and Eric Mochalski (215 kills, 100 blocks). A strength for Stanford will be their ball control, according to one league coach. Also going for the Cardinal is a strong recruiting class that includes setter/outside hitter James Shaw, a U.S. Youth National Team standout who is also the son of former Stanford men’s and women’s head coach Don Shaw.

USC

2012 Record: 24-6
2012 Postseason: 3-0 loss to UC Irvine in the National Championship
Head Coach: Bill Ferguson
Career Record: 111-62 (six seasons)
Key Returners: Henry Cassiday (Jr., L, 6'3"), Robert Feathers (So., MB, 6'8"), Tanner Jansen (Jr., Opp., 6'5"), Maddison McKibbin (Sr., Opp., 6'5"), Micah Christenson (So., S, 6'5")
Key Losses: Tony Ciarelli (OH), Steven Shandrick (MB)

Snapshot: USC loses two big contributors in Tony Ciarelli (417 kills) and Steven Shandrick (193 kills, 109 blocks) but returns what several coaches called the best setter in the country in Micah Christenson (10.75 assists per set), who led the squad to a .297 hitting percentage last year. Henry Cassiday is back to anchor the defense (199 digs) while Robert Feathers, who led the country in blocking last season, also returns (154 total blocks). The Trojans gain the services of eight freshmen with height and talent. Keep an eye out for the Jan. 11 rematch of the 2012 National Championship match as the Trojans visit UC Irvine.

UC Irvine

2012 Record: 26-5
2012 Postseason: NCAA National Champions
Head Coach: David Kniffin
Career Record: First season
Key Returners: Kevin Tillie (Sr., OH, 6'6"), Jeremy Dejno (Jr., OH, 6'4"), Chris Austin (Sr., S, 6'3"), Connor Hughes (Jr., OH, 6'6"), Michael Brinkley (So., L, 5'10"), Daniel Stork (Jr., S, 6'4"), Scott Kevorken (Jr., MB, 6'9")
Key Losses: Carson Clark (Opp.), Dan McDonnell (MB)

Snapshot: The defending National Champion Anteaters return five starters, including one of the best outsides in the game, Kevin Tillie (342 kills), and First Team All-MPSF selection Jeremy Dejno (268 kills, 35 aces). First-year head coach David Kniffin’s squad was picked to finish first in the conference again but will have to replace offensive leader Carson Clark (414 kills, 61 aces) along with blocking leader Dan McDonnell (100 blocks). Chris Austin and Daniel Stork are back to direct the offense (828 and 589 assists, respectively) while Michael Brinkley (199 digs) paced the defense last year. Like most West Coast schools this year, the Anteaters play mainly conference competition, which could test the squad early, especially with half the roster being either freshmen or sophomores.

UCLA

2012 Record: 22-8
2012 Postseason: 3-1 loss to UC Irvine in the MPSF Quarterfinals
Head Coach: John Speraw
Career Record: 199-106 (10 years)
Key Returners: Gonzalo Quiroga (Jr., OH, 6'4"), Evan Mottram (Jr., L, 6'2")
Key Losses: Kyle Caldwell (S), Thomas Amberg (MB), Weston Dunlap (MB), Jeremy Casebeer (OH)

Snapshot: New head coach John Speraw and his staff return good players in Gonzalo Quiroga, the leading offensive producer with 258 kills and a team-high 47 aces, and Evan Mottram, the leading defender with 215 digs, but will need to replace three honor-laden players in Kyle Caldwell (set team to .321 hitting percentage), Thomas Amberg (234 kills, leading blocker with 150 stuffs) and Weston Dunlap (247 kills, second on the team in blocks with 106). Also gone is Jeremy Casebeer, who started 28 matches and recorded 268 kills. The Bruins’ schedule is tough right off the bat, hosting Alberta in an exhibition match before traveling to the Asics Invitational at Santa Barbara and then flying to the islands to meet Penn State, Ohio State, and Hawaii. But they have the added advantage of playing host to the NCAA National Championship on May 2 and 4 at the Pauley Pavilion.


Player of the Year Candidates

Three players consistently came up when we asked coaches who the best in the country would be this year. The main considerations included not only skill, but also leadership and the ability to have a large impact on their teams and in matches. Read on to learn a little more about these players.

Micah Christenson
So. | S | 6'5" | Southern California (Honolulu, Hawaii)

While only a sophomore, Christenson is heralded by many coaches as the best setter in the country. Last year’s VBM Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-American, Christenson led the Trojans to the NCAA Title match in his first season. Six of his hitters recorded more than 100 kills for the season, including three who hit better than .300, and he directed the squad to a .297 hitting percentage. He picked up 29 kills for himself to go along with 12 aces, 173 digs, and 76 blocks. He led the squad to better than a .300 hitting percentage on 14 occasions.

Taylor Sander
Jr. | OH | 6'4" | BYU (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

A two-time First Team All-MPSF selection, Sander was called the best player in the country by several coaches. He led the squad in 2012 with 435 kills, good for an average of 4.89 kills per set on a .395 hitting percentage – both marks that ranked second in the nation. He posted a team-high 44 aces and ranked fourth on the squad with 120 digs while also collecting 69 blocks. And he racked up all of these numbers while missing six weeks of action due to an injury to his right hand. Sander posted 12 matches with 20 or more kills for BYU and also saw action this summer with the U.S. Men’s National team, being named the Most Valuable Player at the Pan American Cup in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Kevin Tillie
Sr. | OH | 6'6" | UC Irvine (Cagnus-sur-Mer, France)

As one coach said, “Irvine is going to be good because they still have Tillie.” The senior, who started his career at Thompson Rivers University in Canada and was a member of the French Junior National Team, ranked second on the Anteater squad last season in kills with 342 (3.80 kills per set) on .387 hitting, which ranked him third nationally. He was named to the MPSF and NCAA All-Tournament teams, aided by his 21 kills on .500 hitting in the NCAA semifinal win over Penn State. He recorded double-digit kill numbers on 20 occasions, including a career-high 24 against Stanford in the MPSF Final.

Originally published in February 2013

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