The Ultimate 2019 Men's College Volleyball Preview

Legacy: Long Beach State (Ep. 1)

Men’s college volleyball season officially begins this weekend. Before you making a list of matches to stream or travel to, give this preview a read. 

We’ve given you all you need to know about the top 15 teams in the country (according to the AVCA’s preseason poll), including which players have graduated, who the new star rookies are and which teams will contend for the 2019 national title. 

1. Long Beach State

2018 Record: 28-1 (National Champion)

Biggest Losses: Davis Cannon (OPP), Bjarne Huus (OH)

Key Returners: Nick Amado (RS SR, MB), Simon Anderson (SO, MB), T.J. DeFalco (SR, OH), Kyle Ensing (SR, OPP), Jordan Molina (SR, L), Josh Tuaniga (SR, S)

Newcomers of Note: Gabriel Vargas-Featherstone (FR, OPP), Dawson Fugate (FR, OH/S)

Long Beach State won the 2018 NCAA title with just one loss along the way (a five-set defeat at the hands of Hawaii in the last game of the regular season). For 2019, the 49ers return four All-American starters, including three-time First Teamer and 2017 National Player of the Year T.J. DeFalco. Head coach Alan Knipe also brings in an AVCA Boys High School First Team All-American in Gabriel Vargas-Featherstone.

Oh, and guess what? The NCAA championship will be hosted inside Long Beach State’s own Walter Pyramid come May. So it’s safe to say Long Beach is once again the team to beat.

2. UCLA

2018 Record: 26-8 (National Runner-Up)

Biggest Losses: Jake Arnitz (OH), JT Hatch (L/OH), Christian Hessenauer (OPP), Oliver Martin (MB)

Key Returners: Daenan Gyimah (JR, MB), Micah Ma’a (SR, S), Dylan Missry (SR, OH) 

Newcomers of Note: Kevin Kobrine (FR, OPP), Austin Matautia (Hawaii transfer, JR, OH), Daniel Matheney (FR, MB/OH), Cole Pender (FR, L/OH), Brandon Rattray (Hawaii transfer, RS JR, OPP), Matt Younggren (UC Irvine transfer, RS JR, MB)

UCLA made it to the national championship match last May and lost to Long Beach State by just three points in the fifth set. Since then, the Bruins graduated four starters, including kills leader Hessenauer, but they bring in three very notable transfers (two from Hawaii and one from UCI) and a class of six freshmen to help reload. 

Incoming rookies Daniel Matheney and Cole Pender even earned First Team High School All-America honors from the AVCA, and Kevin Kobine was named the No. 2 player in the class by VolleyballMag.com. (Pender was named the No. 4 player in the class and Matheney No. 5.) And of course, veteran leadership from setter Ma’a, middle Gyimah and outside Missry will prove valuable as the most decorated team in men’s college volleyball seeks to end its 12-year national championship drought. 

3. Hawaii

2018 Record: 19-8 (Big West Runner-Up)

Biggest Losses: Larry Tuileta (L), Austin Matautia (transferred to UCLA, OH), Brandon Rattray (transferred to UCLA, OPP)

Key Returners: Pat Gasman (RS JR, MB), Rado Parapunov (JR, OPP), Stijn Van Tilburg (SR, OH), Joe Worsley (SR, S)

Newcomers of Note: Cole Hogland (FR, OH), Devon Johnson (FR, OH), Brett Sheward (FR, S)

For the second season in a row, the Big West coaches picked Hawaii to finish second, chasing Long Beach State, which defeated the Warriors in last year’s conference championship match. However, with a national preseason ranking of third, Hawaii celebrates its highest preseason mark since 2005. 

Replacing graduated libero Larry Tuileta, in addition to Austin Matautia and Brandon Rattray, who transferred, will be a challenge for Hawaii, but a group of four returning All-Americans includes First Teamer Stijn van Tilburg, who has played both outside and opposite for the Warriors. 

4. UC Irvine

2018 Record: 21-10 (NCAA Tournament Quarterfinalist)

Biggest Losses: Matt Younggren (transferred to UCLA, JR, MB)

Key Returners: Karl Apfelbach (SR, OPP), Dante Chakravorti (SR, S), Aaron Koubi (SR, OH), Joel Schneidmiller (SO, OH), Scott Stadick (JR, MB)

Newcomers of Note: Jonny Bowles (FR, OPP), Mac Cavanah (FR, MB), Ian Eschenberg (FR, OH), Brian Garcia (FR, S), Patrick Vorenkamp (FR, MB), Owen Wahlgren (FR, MB)

UC Irvine has a lot of factors going in its favor. The Anteaters return all but one starter from 2018, so they’ve got plenty of veteran leadership. With 20 guys on the roster, five true freshmen, and three players eligible to make their collegiate debuts after redshirting in 2018, they’ve also got some seriously depth. 

Head coach David Kniffin even brings in the top recruit in the Class of 2019, 6-7 opposite Jonny Bowles, who played for the U.S. Junior National Team at the 2017 FIVB Boys U19 World Championships and could challenge Second Team All-American Karl Apfelbach for the starting opposite spot. 

5. BYU

2018 Record: 22-7 (National Semifinalist)

Biggest Losses: Leo Durkin (S), Price Jarman (MB), Brenden Sander (OH)

Key Returners: Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga (JR, OH), Gabi Garcia Fernandez (SO, OPP), Felipe de Brito Ferreira (SO, MB), Zach Hendrickson (SO, L), Miki Jauhiainen (JR, MB), Wil Stanley (JR, S)

Newcomers of Note: Kanani Akana (FR, OPP), Tim Baldwin (FR, OH), Teilon Tufuga (FR, OH)

Picked second behind UCLA in the MPSF Preseason Poll and fifth nationally, BYU looks to have another excellent season. Headlining the list of returners for the Cougars is reigning MPSF Newcomer of the Year Gabi Garcia Fernandez, who led the team with 387 kills in 2018, but the loss of All-Americans Jarman, Sander and Durkin will certainly be felt. 

With just one senior, the Cougars’ strong group of juniors and sophomores will have to step up and lead, especially with eight freshmen joining BYU for their debut collegiate seasons this spring. The incoming class includes Tim Baldwin, a 6-6 outside hitter from Oak Park, California, who earned AVCA First Team High School All-America honors, and Kanani Akana and Teilon Tufuga, who joined Baldwin on the 2018 Volleyball Magazine Boys Fab 50 List.

6. Pepperdine

2018 Record: 15-8 (MPSF Quarterfinalist) 

Biggest Losses: Colby Harriman (OH), Alex Harthaller (OH)

Key Returners: Max Chamberlain (SR, MB), Noah Dyer (JR, OH/S), Robert Mullahey (SO, S), Michael Wexter (SR, OPP), David Wieczorek (RS SR, OH)

Newcomers of Note: Brendin Chandler (FR, S), Luke Grafton (FR, L), James Martin (FR, MB), Kevin Vaz (Cal Baptist transfer, RS SR, MB)

Pepperdine graduated just two starters and returns an experienced group, including reigning MPSF Player of the Year and Second Team All-American David Wieczorek, who averaged 4.00 kills per set last season, good for third in NCAA Division I-II.

The Waves will also benefit from an influx of new talent as four redshirt freshmen make their collegiate debuts along with a class of seven true freshmen, three of whom earned AVCA High School All-America honors. Cal Baptist transfer Kevin Vaz, a 6-6 middle blocker from Paris, France, will spend his fifth year of eligibility in Malibu and add to the Waves’ depth in the middle.

7. Lewis

2018 Record: 19-11 (MIVA Semifinalist)

Biggest Losses: N/A

Key Returners: Kyle Bugee (JR, OH), Ryan Coenen (RS JR, OH), Dalen Instenes (RS JR, OH), Tyler Mitchem (RS SO, MB), TJ Murray (RS SO, MB), Mitch Perinar (RS SR, OPP), Michael Simmons (RS SR, L), Ryan Van Loo (JR, S), Jake Walenga (RS SR, L), Matt Yoshimoto (SR, S)

Newcomers of Note: N/A

With no notable losses from a year ago, Lewis is one of the most veteran teams in the MIVA, and the Flyers earned the top spot in the conference preseason coaches poll. Since making the national championship match in 2015, Lewis has been stopped short in the MIVA championship and failed to make the NCAA Tournament each year. With so much returning talent, this could be the year we see another surge from the Flyers. 

Second Team All-American Ryan Coenen returns for his redshirt junior season after leading the team with 349 kills in 2018. The Flyers’ leaders also include two-year starting setter Matt Yoshimoto, 2018’s second-highest offensive contributor Mitch Perinar and libero Michael Simmons.

With all starters returning, this year’s freshmen likely won’t have much opportunity to crack the lineup, but nonetheless, coach Dan Friend welcomes a strong class of seven newcomers.

8. Ohio State

2018 Record: 25-6 (National Semifinalist)

Biggest Losses: Maxime Hervoir (OH), Nicolas Szerszen (OH), 

Key Returners: Jake Hanes (RS SO, OPP), Blake Leeson (RS SR, MB), Aaron Samarin (RS SR, L), Sanil Thomas (SR, S)

Newcomers of Note: Luke Lentin (FR, OH), Parker Mikesch (FR, L), Sean Ryan (FR, OH), Kyle Skinner (Santa Barbara City College transfer, SO, OH), Jack Stevens (FR, OH), Ethan Talley (FR, MB)

Despite earning two first-place votes from the conference coaches, Ohio State enters the season as the No. 3 team in the MIVA preseason poll. The Buckeyes have won three MIVA titles in a row, but with the graduation of Nicolas Szerszen and Maxime Hervoir (the top two offensive contributors from 2018), the collective dubiousness is understandable. 

Of course, when you’ve won your conference three years running and claimed three national titles in the last eight years, talent will always flock to your program, and this year is no exception for Ohio State. Four of Pete Hanson’s five freshmen (Lentin, Ryan, Stevens & Talley) were included on the AVCA Boys’ Volleyball High School Senior All-American team. The fifth newcomer, Parker Mikesch, is no slouch either. He’s a two time First Team All-Ohio libero, a two-time regional player of the year, and a VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 honoree.

The team might need a little time to reestablish its offensive rhythm, but you should by no means count the Buckeyes out this season.

9. Loyola-Chicago

2018 Record: 23-7 (MIVA Finalist)

Biggest Losses: Ricky Gevis (OPP), Ryan Jamison (OH), Jeff Jendryk (MB)

Key Returners: Avery Aylsworth (SR, L),  Devin Joslyn (SO, OH), Collin Mayan (SR, OH), Paul Narup (SR, MB), Will Tischler (SR, OH), Garrett Zolg (SO, S)

Newcomers of Note: Joe D’Attomo (FR, MB), Luke Denton (FR, OH/OPP), Mike Herlihy (FR, MB), Andrew Lyons (FR, OH), Ian Piet (FR, OH/OPP), Cole Schlothauer (FR, OH)

The departure of the 2018 senior class leaves Loyola without two of its three top offensive contributors. The loss of First Team All-American middle blocker Jeff Jendryk, now a fixture on the men’s national team roster, especially stings. However, after leading the team with 107 total blocks last season and hitting a sizzling .462, senior Paul Narup seems ready to step up and help guide whomever earns the second starting middle spot.

Senior outside hitter Collin Mahan led the team with 371 kills last year and the MIVA coaches named him the preseason player of the year. A strong incoming class also includes Second Team High School All-American middle blocker Mike Herlihy and six members of the VolleyballMag.com Fab 50. 

10. UC Santa Barbara

2018 Record: 11-13 (Big West Quarterfinalist)

Biggest Losses: N/A

Key Returners: Corey Chavers (OH), Randy Drake (MB), Keenan Sanders (OPP), Jack Truman (MB)

Newcomers of Note: Max Cajuste (FR, OH/OPP), Brandon Hicks (FR, MB), Andrew McSweeney (FR, OH), Patrick Paragas (FR, S), Ryan Wilcox (FR, OH)

Every single player who appeared in a match last year for USCB returns for 2019. Four Gauchos earned All-Big West honors last season (Chavers, Sanders, Drake and Truman), and UCSB went undefeated in a fall tournament featuring UCLA, USC and CSUN.

In addition to having the entire starting lineup back, UCSB also brings in five athletes ranked in VolleyballMag.com’s Fab 50, one of just four schools to boast five or more players on the list.

A tough schedule for the Gauchos features 20 matches versus opponents ranked in the AVCA’s preseason top-15 poll. 

11. CSUN

2018 Record: 16-11 (Big West Semifinalist)

Biggest Losses: Josiah Byers (MB), Eric Chance (MB), Arvis Greene (OPP)

Key Returners: Emmett Enriques (SR, L), Dimitar Kalchev (SR, OH), Sam Porter (SR, S), Maciej Ptaszynski (SO, OH)

Three of the Matadors’ starters departed after the 2018 season, including Second Team All-American Arvis Greene, who with 378 kills was responsible for just under a third of CSUN’s offense, and both starting middles. Luckily last season’s No. 2 offensive contributor Dimitar Kalchev is back for his senior season, as is starting setter Sam Porter and libero Emmett Enriques.

Seven players took a redshirt last season, so they, along with five incoming true freshmen, could bring some new talent to head coach Jeff Campbell’s lineup.

12. Concordia Irvine

2018 Record: 16-16 (MPSF Semifinalist)

Biggest Losses: Jacob Weiser (L)

Key Returners: Raymond Barsemian (RS JR, OH), Chandler Gibb (RS SR, S), Hunter Howell (SR, MB)

Newcomers of Note: Luke Krzmarzick (FR, OPP), Kyle Merchen (FR, S)

In 2018, its first season competing in the MPSF conference, Concordia Irvine was picked to finish last, but surprised many by placing fourth in the final regular-season standings and advancing to the MPSF semifinals. 

This year, coaches in the conference and around the country have a bit more confidence in the Eagles and have ranked them 12th in the national preseason poll (the program’s first time earning a mention in the preseason ranking) and sixth in the MPSF. 

The 2019 Eagles roster includes returning All-MPSF honorees Barsemian, Gibb and Howell, as well as two VolleyballMag.com 2018 Boys Fab 50 award-winners in Krzmarzick and Merchen, who lead a group of nine rookies.

13. Stanford

2018 Record: 6-20 (MPSF Quarterfinalist)

Biggest Losses: Evan Enriques (L), Kevin Rakestraw (MB)

Key Returners: Eric Beatty (JR, OH), Paul Bischoff (JR, S), Kyle D’Agostino (RS SR, L), Russell Dervay (SR, S), Jaylen Jasper (SO, OPP), Kyler Presho (SO, MB)

Newcomers of Note: Justin Lui (FR, L)

Fifth-year senior libero Kyle D’Agostino redshirted the 2018 season and will play a key leadership role following the graduation of Kevin Rakestraw and All-American libero Evan Enriques. 

The 2019 Stanford squad also features Honorable Mention All-American sophomore Jaylen Jasper. Jasper had a team-high 365 kills last year as a freshman and led the U.S. Junior National Team to a fourth-place finish at the NORCECA U21 Continental Championship over the summer.

Head coach John Kosty brings in just one freshman, but Canadian junior national team libero Justin Lui will be an immediate contender to earn a spot in the starting lineup.

T14. Grand Canyon

2018 Record: 18-11 (MPSF Quarterfinalist)

Biggest Losses: Sky Engleman (L), Puna Kaniho (S), Ashton King (MB), Zachary Melcher (S), Cullen Mosher (OH), Shalev Saada (OH), Cody Williams (OH)

Key Returners: Caleb Blazer (JR, MB), Avery Enriques (SO, L), Will Schwob (SR, OPP), Trevor Weary (SO, OH) 

Newcomers of Note: Camden Gianni (FR, OH), Christian Janke (FR, OH)

With all but two of 2018’s starters lost to graduation, Grand Canyon head coach Matt Werle faces a bit of a rebuilding season. Senior opposite Will Schwob is the top returning offensive contributor and will also shoulder a significant leadership role as one of just four upperclassmen on the roster. Junior middle Caleb Blazer ranked second on the team in 2018 with 84 blocks (0.97/set).

A freshmen class of seven includes two AVCA High School All-Americans/VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 honorees in Camden Gianni and Christian Janke. The young Lopes roster will be immediately tested as it faces 10 of the preseason top 15 during the 2019 season.

T14. Purdue Fort Wayne

2018 Record: 18-11 (MIVA Quarterfinalist)

Biggest Losses: N/A

Key Returners: Richie Diedrich (JR, MB), Tomas Gago (SO, MB), Michael Keegan (SR, S), Tony Price (RS SR, OH), Frederico Santos (SO, S), Colton Stone (RS SR, OH), Pelegrin Vargas (JR, OH)

Newcomers of Note: Cody Johnson (FR, MB)

With all starters returning and three guys on the roster who boast significant national team experience for their respective home countries, the newly renamed and rebranded Purdue Fort Wayne squad has the potential to surprise a few opponents this season. 

Of course, Pelegrin Vargas, the Puerto Rican outside hitter who led the Mastodons with 386 kills last season and earned a spot on the 2019 preseason All-MIVA team, will be the focus of opposing teams’ scouting reports, but pins Colton Stone and Tony Price, middles Tomas Gago (a member of the Chilean national team) and Richie Diedrich can also pose significant offensive threats. 

2018 starting setter Michael Keegan returns for his senior season, but Portuguese national team setter Frederico Santos serves as a worthy backup or alternative if head coach Rock Perrotte decides a change of pace is needed.

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