Continuing with my analysis of the 2018 schedules for some of the top West Region teams.
Off to the SCIAC and the only published schedule I see currently is for the Chapman Panthers. Chapman is coming off a good season that saw them lose to the eventual national champions Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the SCIAC semi-finals. Chapman will suffer from the graduations of Kylie Cooke and Abby Smith but will return a senior laden team highlighted by their two setters and a strong attacking trio in Friend, Justus and Johnson. I was critical of Whitworth’s scheduling in yesterday’s post and Chapman’s schedule shares a lot of the same features…so, yeah…I’m not happy with Chapman, either.
The top teams in the SCIAC can typically find a way to play in at least three tournaments where at least one if not two are out-of-state. The 2018 Chapman schedule, however, has them playing in two local tournaments to start the year and then going straight to SCIAC play. A quick check shows the last time Chapman played in three tournaments in a year was 2013 so I’m unsure if there are travel/money restrictions placed on this team. Regardless, I will take Chapman to task as I think they have the potential to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid in most years and this type of scheduling doesn’t help in that goal.
The first weekend of play has Chapman drawing St. Scholastica, Salisbury, Mt. Aloysius and Carthage, which is not a bad group on the face of things. St. Scholastica is a traditional .500 team out of the UMAC that is returning most of their players. It’s a team you don’t really benefit by with a victory but really doesn’t look good on your NCAA resume if you lose (if that makes sense…it makes sense to me…so you should probably be worried if it also made sense to you). Salisbury is a good team out of the Mid-Atlantic region and the bonus here is that they are often regionally ranked since the Mid-Atlantic will rank up to 11 teams. So, a victory here has a decent chance of helping your regional ranked criterion used in NCAA Tournament selection. I admit I had to research Mt. Aloysius a bit, but they are also out of the Mid-Atlantic region. The interesting thing with this team is that they suffered no graduation losses so maybe a team on the upswing this year. Carthage is the highlight of this first weekend after they went on a hot streak to end 2017 capturing the CCIW crown in the process while defeating highly ranked teams Wittenberg, IWU and Millikin. They then made a nice NCAA Tournament run finally losing to Calvin in the regional final in 5 sets. On the flip side Carthage losses a big chunk of their attackers so getting them in the first week is probably a good thing. Still, not a bad group and one that Chapman will want to come away with 4 victories.
The most important thing about Chapman’s schedule is that they somehow play Southwestern on the Tuesday after Labor Day. This is important because I was planning on heading to California to cheer on Southwestern and the other West Region teams that weekend and was unaware that I needed to stay a couple of extra days. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a match at Chapman before. Beautiful campus and maybe the most deadly stands to fans in the nation. If I can be neutral about Southwestern for a second (no, really…trust me), this is actually a good match for Chapman. Southwestern is losing a good chunk of their attack to senior graduation and also lost a starting underclassman. Even if their recruiting class is strong it will take a few weeks for the team to hit their stride.
The second weekend has Chapman playing in the Cal Lutheran tournament and drawing Willamette, Whitman, UC Santa Cruz and Puget Sound. It’s good that they will compete against the NWC but they are getting the teams that will most likely fall within the second or third tier in that conference. These are all matches that Chapman will need to win in order to secure a West Region ranking later in the year.
After the second weekend, it’s all about the SCIAC with another UC Santa Cruz match thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, two UC Santa Cruz matches is probably going to hurt the Panthers’ Strength of Schedule more than two victories will help them. As for the SCIAC, I haven’t done a preview of the conference but it should be more wide open this season with no early season clear cut favorite. CMS, Cal Lutheran and La Verne will all graduate some amazing seniors so the team to watch out for may be Whittier.
In summary, Chapman benefits from being in a very strong conference. Since 2011, the SCIAC has placed at least one at-large bid (Pool C) team into the NCAA Tournament. Chapman has matches scheduled against the NWC and has a sole match against a SCAC opponent, which is all good. On the other side, no matches against the ASC, not playing the top NWC teams and what if Southwestern has an off year (gasp!)? As far as non-West Region teams, it’s basically Carthage and they look like they may struggle a bit this year. I think Chapman has a chance to be really good this season but this schedule (outside of dismantling the SCIAC) doesn’t allow for that message to get out to the masses.