MISENHEIMER, N.C. - Tons of teams enter a season with preseason hype, but then there are those teams that enter with little expectations and surprise everyone. Pfeiffer University was one of those five teams named by Vinnie Lopes of Off the Block who covers Men's Volleyball nationally.
Whether it was Harvard finishing last season ranked in the national coaches poll or UC Santa Barbaraís run to the 2011 NCAA championship match last season, each season always has menís volleyball teams that surprise everyone.Several teams last season that did not reach their conference tournament or finished outside of the national rankings could have a big season in 2013.
Below are the five teams that no one is talking about but could surprise some people this upcoming season.
THE FIVE SURPRISE TEAMS OF 2013
It has been 11 long years for Ball State since it last reached the Final Four ó the longest drought in program history. Ball State is still a dark horse to win the MIVA after being picked fifth in the conference preseason coaches poll. This team, though, should be an improvement from last season when the Cardinals failed to have a 15-win season for the first since 1999. Ball State after reaching the MIVA Tournament semifinals returns all of its starters from last season, including All-MIVA middle attackers Matt Leske and Kevin Owens. In addition, the Cardinals strength of schedule has them poised for a winning record. Ball State has one non-conference match against a team finished last season in the national rankings. If Ball State can get consistent offensive production from its outside attackers, this team should contend in the MIVA.
UC SANTA BARBARA
The drop last season for UC Santa Barbara was hard felt, but Gauchos could be set for yet another breakout season. UC Santa Barbara one year after going on an underdog run to reach the 2011 NCAA championship match finished last season in the bottom of the conference standings and didnít qualify for the MPSF Tournament. The rebuilding process from last season could pay off this year as the Gauchos return a majority of starters and coach Rick McLaughlin signed several top high school recruits. In addition, senior Dylan Davis was one of two MPSF middle attackers to earn Preseason All-American honors. UC Santa Barbara was projected to finish in ninth place in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll. However, if the Gauchos can pull off a couple upsets this season donít be surprised if they are back in the MPSF Tournament.
After coming up one-match short of reaching the EIVA Tournament last season, the Red Flashes could be primed to make a return to the postseason. Middle attacker Adam Roche highlights the returning starters for coach Mike Rumbaugh. Roche finished last season third in the nation in blocks per game average. In addition, St. Francis addressed one of their biggest concerns in the off-season by recruiting players to give it more size. The Red Flashes were picked to finish in fifth place in the EIVA Preseason Coaches Poll and should be in contention for a postseason spot throughout the season.
Only the most hardcore of menís volleyball fans outside of southeast would know Pfeiffer was a college or had a team. Not only though does Pfeiffer have a team, but a good team returning a majority of its starters after winning the Conference Carolinas championship last season. Among the three all-conference starters returning for new head coach Greg Walker includes the reigning Conference Carolinas Player of the Year outside attacker Quentin Moore. The Falcons will be one of the early favorites to repeat as Conference Carolinas champions. However, the thing for volleyball fans to watch is the Falcons non-conference matches against EIVA and MIVA teams. Pfeiffer has a chance to win several of these matches, which would be signature victories for the emerging menís volleyball conference. No Conference Carolinas team has ever received votes in the national coaches poll. This team has a chance this year to break that trend.
The Highlanders last season were most remembered for radio host of ďThe Net LiveĒ Kevin Barnettís friendly joking remarks about if it was a real school. However, itís not only a real school but a team that could make a run at a spot in the EIVA Tournament. NJIT has improved its record the last three years and ended last season 12-17 ó the programís first 12-win season in five years. In addition, coach Ryan McNeil emphasis on recruiting international players has resulted in the Highlanders having deeper and improved signing classes. With a bulk of its starters returning ó including all-conference libero Brady Smith ó the Highlanders have a chance to make their first postseason appearance in recent history.