Continuing with my analysis of the 2018 schedules for some of the top West Region teams.
My Latvian hackers have paid off big as they have somehow unearthed the Southwestern schedule. You would think the Pirates’ self-proclaimed biggest volleyball fan would have this tattooed on his chest already or would have been informed when modeling for his statue that will be placed outside the Robertson Center but that’s not the case. Despite the extra effort required, I know my Pirates still love me…well, at least before they read this post.
Having taken to task the NWC and Chapman for not playing tougher schedules, I fear I must also look inward as the Pirates’ schedule is also lacking. Southwestern had a great 2017 season that was on the heels of their first ever Final Four appearance. A repeat will be tough as the Pirates lose All-Everything Kate Mitchell and middle blocker Piper Sisemore. That continues the trend that sees a number of traditionally strong West Region teams that will suffer from significant graduation losses this upcoming season. As for the schedule, things start well enough week one as Southwestern travels out to California to play Occidental, La Verne, Carthage and (defending national champions) CMS. Occidental had a good 2017 season but lose over half of their attack this season to graduation. La Verne was left on the outside during NCAA selection partly due to their SCIAC semi-final loss to Cal Lutheran. This match is interesting for a couple of reasons. First La Verne was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in 2016 to this Southwestern squad in 5-sets. Second, this marks the first return trip of Coach Don Flora back to his alma mater and where he led the Leopards to a national championship back in 2001. Carthage has been discussed in previous posts – great finish to 2017 but also with significant losses due to graduation. Finally, Southwestern will get another chance at the champions, the team that knocked them out last year.
When I saw Chapman’s schedule and saw them playing Southwestern on the day after Labor Day I knew something was wrong. It’s really unusually for any team to spend almost a week on the road and when I finally saw the Pirates’ schedule I reached out to Coach Flora for his reasoning. It turns out week two was supposed to see a tournament at Southwestern but it fell through late in the scheduling season. In order to play a tougher schedule, the decision was made to stay in SoCal another few days in order to get a match in against Chapman. Great adjustment but week two currently only sees a match against a NAIA opponent (Huston-Tillotsen). For those unfamiliar with NAIA and DIII, these matches don’t impact their overall record that the NCAA uses come selection time (primary criteria). They are part of the secondary criteria but for the most part it’s like physically playing a match that doesn’t exist in the NCAA reality.
Week three has Southwestern starting SCAC play (a week earlier than in the past) under the new schedule created this season with the addition of JWU (Denver). Southwestern has also added a midweek match against ASC member Concordia (Texas) that will lessen the blow of the lack of matches during week two. Two more NAIA matches in September have been scheduled and, then in October, Southwestern will play the three top teams out of the ASC in UT-Tyler, UT-Dallas and UMHB. UT-Tyler is a real good team that faded towards the end of last season but return the bulk of their team. UT-Dallas, as written before, should be one of the top teams in the nation if they can stay healthy. UMHB losses their setter but returns the rest of the team and should be really good this year.
When it’s all said and done, Southwestern will only play one out-of-region team (Carthage) and no teams from the NWC. I worry this schedule is a little like UMHB’s schedule from last year when the Cru lost out on a bid when they didn’t capture the ASC championship. The big difference here is that the SCAC has better high-end teams than the ASC. Still, in-conference matches against Trinity and Colorado College will take on a greater significance for the Pirates this year. Southwestern will also benefit from playing some of the tougher teams out of the SCIAC and ASC, but they need to win the majority of these matches. Bottom line is that there is only a little margin for error with Southwestern in 2018.