Continuing with my analysis of the 2018 schedules for some of the top West Region teams.
My Latvian hackers failed me today but luckily Cal Lutheran has published their schedule just in time for me to take a critical eye to their matches. We may be in trouble tomorrow, but for now we have a really nice schedule to analyze.
When it comes to the West Region, CLU is traditionally one of the top teams. They reached the NCAA championship match in 2013 and 2015 winning it all in their second attempt. They had another great run in 2016 but were shutout of a bid last year after a difficult start due in part to a number of great seniors graduating from the program. They did make it back to the SCIAC championship match after a great second half run through the conference and were probably one of the better teams in the region at the end of October. Based on their finish it would appear they are on the upswing heading into 2018, but they again have a number of great seniors graduating.
For week one, CLU finds itself playing in the Pacific Coast Classic hosted by CMS (whoops…defending national champions CMS). They will draw JWU (Providence), Carthage, St. Scholastica and Salisbury. Now that I’ve done a few of these analysis posts, I’m starting to repeat myself a bit when it comes to the team previews as I’ve discussed all four of these teams already. JWU is a team I really want to watch in person as they were an Elite 8 team last year that returns the bulk of their squad. They will be the top team in the New England Region and you can already pen them into the Elite 8 bracket this year. It’s wonderful that they are making this trip out west and creating a tough schedule for their team as it will only help them come tournament time. With that said, take them down Regals! Carthage, like CLU, had a great second half of the season in 2017 but they were able to win their conference and make a nice little run in the tournament. They lose a bunch of talent off their 2017 team so they should be taking a step back (especially early in the year). St. Scholastica, as I mentioned before, is a traditional .500 team out of the UMAC but they are returning most of their players. Salisbury is a Mid-Atlantic team that often gets regional ranked. Beating regional ranked teams always helps at selection time so this is an important match for CLU.
Week two and CLU is hosting the Cal Lu Fornia Invitational. “Cal…Lu…Fornia”…I just got it…funny. For their tournament CLU draws three teams from the West Region in Hardin-Simmons, Puget Sound and UMHB. They also get Clarkson out of the New York Region. It’s really nice to see UMHB traveling out-of-state and playing tough competition as failing to do this last year cost them an NCAA bid when they lost the ASC Tournament. Also good to see Clarkson in this tournament and I’ll just hold out hope other New York teams follow their lead (looking at you Ramapo). I should have a better feel on Hardin-Simmons (HSU) since they are in Texas but I just don’t. I really liked them last year but I felt they disappointed. I think they had some team issues that may have held them back (that could be a lie…I’m getting old but I remember something about HSU last year) and I know they lost a setter late in the year. They return the bulk of their team so they should be good this year…it’s just a fool me once problem I have with HSU right now. (On a side note, I did watch a few HSU matches last year and I always liked their style of play…just didn’t always get the results they needed.) Puget Sound loses their setter and a lot of their attack (and, heck, their defense, too). The Regals should take this match. UMHB is going to be interesting as they lose their setter but not much else. I’ve stated in the past (based on my research) that the loss of a 5-1 setter doesn’t impact the following year’s success like losing a top hitter does. Just something about it being easier to replace a setter although that goes against my core beliefs. Now one team that struggled losing their setter a few years back was UMHB so this all depends on who Coach Frost has ready to go this year. Here’s the thing (and I didn’t mean for this to be a post on UMHB), Coach Frost seems to like height at the setter spot and every setter listed on the 2017 roster was also listed as a right side (as was their starter). It just worries me a bit. Clarkson is usually one of the better teams out of the New York Region and that should be the case again in 2018. Always good to take down one of the top teams in another region as it means you have an advantage over the entire region come selection time.
Following the second weekend, CLU will start their SCIAC matches but then attend the East-West DIII Challenge at CMS (dang…defending national champions CMS). A heck of a draw as they get Washington-St. Louis (are they playing every team in the West Region this year?), UT-Dallas and Juniata. If you read my other posts then you know I think WUSTL could be in the championship this year and I’m really high on the Comets of UT-Dallas. Both should be great tests for CLU. Juniata is out of the Mid-Atlantic and is a perennially NCAA Tournament team. Last year they were eliminated by Wittenberg in the tournament but they return a strong team this year and are looking for a deeper run. A very tough test for the Regals.
That’s a heck of a three week schedule for CLU. Maybe not at the level of CMS (jeez…defending national champion CMS) but it’s certainly 1A and 1B as far as schedules go so far. The SCIAC kicks into full gear following the first three weekends and as I’ve mentioned before this will be another deep year in the conference. I’m not sure there is a clear favorite at this time but I see a lot of teams that will just be nasty good.
In summary, CLU will play a strong national schedule with teams like JWU, Carthage, Clarkson, WUSTL and Juniata. They poke their toe into the NWC with Puget Sound and hit three of the top teams from the ASC – UT-Dallas, UMHB and HSU. No schedule is perfect and the problem here is the lack of matches against the SCAC but overall no complaints with what the Regals have put together.