Monday, 4 March 2024

International Volleyball

2024 NCAA men’s volleyball preview: Teams, conferences loaded with depth

Drought ends as UCLA tops Hawai'i to win NCAA men's volleyball championship

As volleyball continues to grow at the high school level for boys, more and better athletes become available to stock college men’s rosters. That produces more quantity — in the past three years, three Division I/II conferences have been added — and more quality.

Longtime Penn State coach Mark Pavlik, whose Nittany Lions won the EIVA last year, sees it in his own conference. When asked who would present the biggest challenge to the Nittany Lions’ crown this season, Pavlik was almost at a loss.

“If you would have asked me this question 15 years ago, I could have given you one answer,” said Pavlik, who is entering his 29th year at Penn State. “Now — and I think it’s true across the U.S. — parity is getting better and better.

“Certainly in the EIVA, you have a handful of teams that can come out on any given night and, if you’re not playing well, they’ll make you pay for it. So if you ask me who’s the team you worry about, honestly, I’m worried about all of them.”

John Speraw sees it, too.

Besides being the coach of reigning national champion UCLA and the USA men’s team, Speraw is chairman of First Point Volleyball. First Point has been a prime mover in the growth of boys and men’s volleyball.

Asked who could emerge as contenders to dethrone the Bruins, Speraw’s answer is as far-reaching as Pavlik’s.

“At the end of (2023), I thought Ohio State was playing really good volleyball. They’re right there. I know Penn State loses a lot, but they do have some players return who, I think, are very high level. You’ve got to think Loyola of Chicago is going to be better.

“I know that Grand Canyon is returning a lot. Long Beach is returning a lot. Stanford is returning a lot … And I should mention Hawai’i. I know they graduated a couple of key players, but they also have some exceptional talent outside … and Hawai’i again will be in the mix.”

The depth factor extends to individual teams, too, and few know that better than Speraw. With the exception of libero Troy Gooch and middle blocker J.R. Norris, who came off the bench and emerged as a hero during the national championship match last May, the Bruins return their entire lineup.

That includes a frightening corps of hitters such as Ido David, Ethan Champlin, Merrick McHenry, Zach Rama and Guy Genis. Also back is fifth-year outside hitter Alex Knight, MVP of the NCAA Championship last season, and setter Andrew Rowan.

Rowan played with the maturity and poise of a seasoned…

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