Tuesday, 20 February 2024

International Volleyball

First Point Challenge brings top NCAA men’s volleyball to Austin again

Nathan Lietzke sets Stanford teammate Nathaniel Gates in an NCAA men's volleyball match in Palo Alto, California, January 10 2024

Stanford’s Nathan Lietzke, who gets to play in his home town of Austin, Texas, this weekend, sets Nathaniel Gates/Glen Mitchell, isiphotos.com

When talking about the third edition of the First Point Collegiate Challenge, Glen Lietzke often uses the phrase “fired up.”

Lietzke, head of Austin Junior Volleyball, spearheaded bringing the tournament to Austin, Texas, originally, in the hope of bringing back some players from the Lone Star State who had gone on to play collegiately. Now, he said, it is about bringing the best teams.

The First Point Collegiate Challenge accomplished that this season in a big way. The 2024 participants for the event, which will be Friday and Saturday at Austin Convention Center, are top-ranked UCLA of the MPSF, No. 4 Ohio State of the MIVA, No. 7 Penn State of the EIVA, No. 8 Stanford and No. 13 USC of the MPSF, and No. 14 Ball State of the MIVA. It’s one of the strongest fields ever for a pre-conference men’s NCAA tournament.

UCLA is the reigning national champion and returns almost its entire lineup. Penn State was a national semifinalist last season.

All six teams are ranked in the most recent AVCA poll, and all but Ball State are undefeated. The Cardinals are a “mere” 6-2 with both losses to No. 9 BYU.

“The only field that might be stronger is the final four,” Lietzke said. “We’re excited.”

The matches begin at 1:30 p.m. Central on Friday with USC (4-0) facing Ball State, followed at 4 p.m. by UCLA (4-0) against Ohio State (4-0) and then at 6:30 by Penn State (4-0) vs. Stanford (4-0).

On Saturday, Ohio State and USC open the action at 1:30, followed by Ball State vs. Ohio State at 4 and the event concludes at 6:30 with Penn State facing UCLA.

Penn State, incidentally, was one of only two teams to defeat the Bruins during its national championship season in 2023.

“I think it’s compelling in a place like Texas, which hasn’t necessarily been the top state in high school or youth boys volleyball,” said Wade Garard, CEO of First Point. “You see football families and basketball families, and they experience the athleticism live, and it’s just striking.”

Lietzke said he is expecting everything about the 2024 First Point tournament to be bigger and better than ever. FloSports will broadcast the event. The matches will be played on the same Terra-Flex floor that was used in Tampa for the 2023 women’s final four. Replay technology will be provided by echo.

In terms of crowds, Lietzke hopes for sellouts,…

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