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Princeton setter Joe Kelly launched the first serve of the 2020 NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball season way back on Dec. 29, but it’s been somewhat of a staggered start for the men.
By now, however, we’re finally fully underway, with all teams in action and the first regular-season AVCA top-15 poll coming out on Monday. In case you’re just tuning in, let us catch you up in our first NCAA men’s weekly notebook of the season.
First AVCA poll of 2020
In the first update to the national rankings since the preseason poll’s release back on Dec. 5, there was quite a bit of movement.
Hawaii maintained its hold on the No. 1 spot, while UCLA and BYU switched places, BYU taking No. 2 and UCLA at No. 3. UC Santa Barbara, off to a hot 3-0 start, jumped up one to No. 4. In fact, each of the top four teams is undefeated.
Also boasting unblemished records as of Monday are tied-for-fifth Long Beach State (3-0), No. 8 Pepperdine (1-0), No. 10 Purdue Fort Wayne (2-0), and No. 15 Ohio State (3-0).
Purdue Fort Wayne made the biggest move from the preseason poll, climbing all the way to No. 10 from a preseason ranking of 14. CSUN and USC both dropped out after being upset by unranked teams, but more on that to come.
Meet Your No. 1: Hawaii
Preseason and current No. 1 Hawaii entered the season as the favorite in the Big West and nationally. The reigning national runner-up graduated starting setter Joe Worsley and star hitter Stijn van Tilberg, but return big-time contributors in opposite Rado Parapunov, middle Patrick Gasman, and outside hitter Colton Cowell.
Those three have already been pivotal, leading the attack for the 5-0 Warriors. As a team, Hawaii is hitting .412 with Gasman boasting a team high .622 percentage, having made just two errors in 37 swings. Gasman also has a team-high 14 blocks. Six-foot-7 Czech outside hitter Filip Humler has tallied a perfectly respectable 19 kills in 11 sets played, and Jakob Thelle, a sophomore setter from Tonsberg, Norway, quarterbacks the Hawaii offense after spending his freshman season in a serving specialist role.
Hawaii certainly looks good, having swept each of its opponents so far and never even letting a team score more than 20 points in a set, but the Warriors have yet to play another ranked team. Their first big test will come Friday when they face Lewis, tied for fifth in the poll, in Romeoville, Illinois. Then on Saturday, Hawaii plays No. 12 Loyola.
But how about No. 2?
Hawaii is riding high with an unblemished record and sweeps of four unranked opponents, meanwhile BYU, which rose to No. 2 this week after being No. 3 in the preseason poll, has faced only ranked teams and has still won all its matches.
The Cougars kicked off the season in Illinois, where they beat preseason No. 11 Loyola and No. 6 Lewis, both in four sets. Then, they hosted No. 15 Penn State and swept the Nittany Lions on back-to-back nights.
BYU’s offensive stars — 6-9 Italian outside hitter Davide Gardini and 6-7 Puerto Rican opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez — have already put up some impressive numbers, with Gardini boasting a team-leading 64 kills, hitting .476, and Garcia Gernandez not far behind with 60 kills, hitting .322.
Yes, we're only a few weeks into the season, but there have already been a number of notable upsets.
McKendree opened its 2020 with a five-set win (19-17 in the fifth) over preseason No. 13 Cal State Northridge at the UC Santa Barbara Asics Invitational on Jan. 9. Despite losing its next two matches (to Long Beach State and UCSB), McKendree landed two players on the all-tournament team — setter Ryan Serrano and outside hitter Patrick Ross.
UC San Diego hosted Illinois’ two ranked teams over the weekend to open its season, starting the year off right with an upset of No. 11 Loyola. The five-set match went to 16-14 in the fifth and UCSD outside hitter Kyle McCauley, a transfer from Orange Coast College making his DI debut, led all players with 20 kills.
Preseason No. 12 USC got upset twice at the AVCA Men’s Showcase tournament in Fairfax, Virginia, last weekend. First, on Friday, preseason-unranked George Mason won in straight sets, with 14 kills from Hayden Wagner, who hit .538. Then on Saturday, NJIT handed the Trojans a second defeat in three. The East Coast squad hit .442 to USC’s .044, getting double-digit kills from Alvaro Gimeno and Jens Feldthus to secure the sweep.
NCAA Men’s Volleyball Matches Live on FloVolleyball This Week
Thursday, Jan. 16
Friday, Jan. 17