2024 First Point Collegiate Challenge

First Point Collegiate Challenge Predictions: Stacked Field Meets In Austin

First Point Collegiate Challenge Predictions: Stacked Field Meets In Austin

Here’s a look ahead (along with predictions) for every match at the First Point Collegiate Challenge, streaming live on FloVolleyball from Jan. 19-20.

Jan 10, 2024 by Briar Napier
First Point Collegiate Challenge Predictions: Stacked Field Meets In Austin

Do you want some big-time college men’s volleyball? 

Well, in the state that’s most known for doing it big, there’s an event later this month that will be sure to satisfy the needs of every diehard fan of the sport.

The Austin Convention Center in Texas will play host to the First Point Collegiate Challenge, a two-day, six-match bonanza of college men’s volleyball featuring six teams ranked in the top 15 nationally as of this writing — including the reigning and defending national champion.

It’s a long road to the NCAA Tournament and getting through the gauntlet to a national title, but in college men’s volleyball, a sport that has fewer participating teams than many of its other Division I counterparts, postseason classics are frequently between teams who have seen each other once or even multiple times before in the same season.

The point is that you may see a preview of a future match with serious, history-making implications down the line. And for those who are seriously in the hunt to take home hardware this May, there can never be too much preparation.

Here’s a look ahead (along with predictions) for every match to come at the First Point Collegiate Challenge, streamed live and exclusively on FloVolleyball during the entire event from Jan. 19-20:

NOTE: Start times are listed in Central Time and are subject to change.

No. 13 Ball State vs. No. 12 USC, 1:30 p.m. Jan. 19

The Cardinals were swept in back-to-back matches by No. 9 BYU this past weekend and still have another ranked matchup at home against No. 17 UC San Diego before going down to Austin. Self-inflicted mistakes were a major issue for BSU against the Cougars (it tallied a total of 38 attack errors across six sets in the doubleheader) and they must be cleaned up before facing a strong Trojans defense which has allowed a .056 opposing hitting percentage as of Tuesday, ranking second in the country. On the flip side, USC won’t be tested against a ranked opponent until at least the Ball State match, but with a budding superstar sophomore in outside hitter Dillon Klein (All-MPSF Second Team last season), the Men of Troy should be A-OK in their Lone Star State opener.

Prediction: USC 3, Ball State 1

No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 5 Ohio State, 4 p.m. Jan. 19

The marquee matchup of Friday’s day of play, the defending national champion Bruins have started off their title defense strong with two sweeps in one day of Fort Valley State and Morehouse last week. Tougher tests will come later this week against a pair of ranked opponents in No. 15 Lewis and No. 10 Loyola Chicago, but keep an eye in Austin for how UCLA utilizes strong sophomore Zach Rama, who has slid in nicely at outside hitter thus far this season with returning All-MPSF First Team nods Ido David and Ethan Champlin. 

Recently named MIVA Defensive Player of the Week Justin Howard will be leading the Ohio State blockers, meanwhile, as the California native will try to upend the powerhouse program of his home state and help the Buckeyes pick up a massive early-season statement win. Still, near-perfection is required to beat UCLA, and though OSU could certainly challenge for a national championship down the line, sheer experience at being the best of the best will help give the Bruins the edge in Austin.

Prediction: UCLA 3, Ohio State 1

No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 8 Stanford, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19

Stanford had arguably the most impressive two victories in the country this past weekend when the Cardinal won both ends of a twin bill against visiting No. 10 Loyola Chicago on Sunday and Monday, especially impressive considering the fact that the Ramblers had split a two-game series with reigning national runner-up and No. 4-ranked Hawaii in Honolulu just a few days before.

 Penn State, meanwhile, needed to go five sets last Saturday to win a war with No. 15 Lewis — getting a 31-kill, career-best night from John Kerr in the process, the most by a Nittany Lion since 2015 — as a PSU lineup with a lot of new faces has plenty of emerging talent, yet is still trying to find its way as an elite squad. Stanford, which put up a .433 hitting percentage across those two wins against Loyola Chicago, might already be well on its way to having one of its best units since its national runner-up team from 10 years ago.

Prediction: Stanford 3, Penn State 0

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 USC, 1:30 p.m. Jan. 20

USC has a big possibility of entering Saturday’s matchup with a chance to start the year 6-0, which would see the Trojans be over halfway past its win total for the entirety of the 2023 season (10) if they beat the Buckeyes. That is no easy feat, however, but the key to victory for USC may be based on if it can get OSU off-kilter early on. 

Early on in the year, the Buckeyes have shown themselves to be a team that starts slow and gets stronger as the match goes along; OSU dropped opening sets to both Daemen and Saint Francis on Sunday and Monday, respectively, before rolling on to eventual four-set wins in each match. It may very well just be some start-of-season jitters for the Buckeyes that they’ll work through soon, but if there are still problems in terms of being ready to play right away, opposing teams will eventually take advantage. That being said, when OSU is on, it’s on — especially when senior outside hitter and AVCA First Team All-American Jacob Pasteur gets going at the net — and how it handles a ranked clash with UC San Diego on Saturday may be telling for how it will handle the competition it will see down in Texas. This showdown has serious “match of the weekend” potential, so keep your eyes peeled.

Prediction: Ohio State 3, USC 2

No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 13 Ball State, 4 p.m. Jan. 20

If the Cardinals do indeed show up against Penn State on Friday, then their Saturday matchup with the Cardinals will see coach John Kosty’s squad have plenty of steam behind it — especially considering the fact that Stanford has swept BSU in each of their past four meetings. Attacking partnership Will Rottman and Moses Wagner combined for 36 kills in Stanford’s five-set win over Loyola Chicago on Monday while the Cardinal also showed some flexibility defensively in the two-fer over the Ramblers, with senior Luke Turner (normally an outside hitter) playing and performing well at libero for each of the two matches. 

Though Ball State could have a capable counter in junior outside hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva, a preseason All-MIVA nod who is a force when healthy, he has been absent for Ball State’s first five matches due to injury and his status for the First Point Collegiate Challenge is unclear. Regardless, Stanford, if it plays up to the best of its abilities, should be in control and leave the Austin Convention Center as the squad that took the biggest leap forward from when it first arrived.

Prediction: Stanford 3, Ball State 0

No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 7 Penn State, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 20 

PSU was picked to win the EIVA for a reason, and with four All-Americans back (including last year’s EIVA Freshman of the Year in libero Ryan Merk) the Nittany Lions will not be overmatched most nights, even after losing a dynamic trio from last season of setter Cole Bogner, opposite Cal Fisher and outside hitter Brett Wildman, all of whom were multiple-time all-EIVA selections in their decorated careers. 

But as UCLA gets back four AVCA First Team All-Americans, it’s very clearly national title or bust once again for the Bruins, and that means shutting down threats — emphatically — when they come to face them; last season’s AVCA Newcomer of the Year, setter Andrew Rowan, may be the glue to bring a repeat all together, too. Penn State’s inexperience together will hamper its chances against the locked and loaded Bruins, but don’t be surprised if the Nittany Lions string together a strong set (or two) before the killer instinct of UCLA kicks in and shuts the door on a shock for good.

Prediction: UCLA 3, Penn State 1

First Point Collegiate Challenge Schedule

All Times Central

Jan. 19

  • 1:30 p.m. – No. 12 USC vs. No. 11 Ball State
  • 4 p.m. – No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 7 Ohio State
  • 6:30 p.m. – No. 9 Stanford vs. No. 3 Penn State

Jan. 20

  • 1:30 p.m. – No. 12 USC vs No. 7 Ohio State
  • 4 p.m. – No. 9 Stanford vs No. 11 Ball State
  • 6:30 p.m. – No. 1 UCLA vs No. 3 Penn State

How To Watch The First Point Collegiate Challenge

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