I continue with my preview/prediction posts for the week. Today we look at the Northwest Conference.
- Monday – ASC
- Tuesday – NWC
- Wednesday – SCAC
- Thursday – SCIAC
- Friday – West Regional Rankings
Here is my predicted order of finish:
- Pacific Lutheran
- George Fox
- Puget Sound
- Lewis & Clark
The NWC does not play a conference tournament.
There is not a lot of cross pollination between the NWC top teams and the rest of the West Region this season. This opens up the possibility that the West Regional rankings could be very fluid this year with respect to the NWC. A lot will depend on how Colorado College does against Pacific Lutheran and Pacific. The Whitman stroll through the SCIAC will also be important. As for the NWC specifically, it should be no surprise that I like the Lutes this year. Pacific should give them a run for the conference crown and Whitman could still surprise but I do think the championship is the Lutes to lose. George Fox is lurking just outside the top 3 in my mind but ahead of a number of good teams. I just think they return more than most of the teams beneath them and should improve on their conference record from last season. I really struggled with Puget Sound and Whitworth as to where to place them. I think both teams will have a bit of a drop this year and as I look at their ordering for the 100th time, I should probably switch them around…but don’t. Whitworth is more of a wildcard to me as I really think they could finish anywhere from 3rd to 8th. Linfield and Willamette can certainly pull off some upsets this year, especially on their home court, which means they may finish higher than predicted. I’m really comfortable with my picks for 1st, 2nd and 9th and not much else.
Team Blubs (Records and finish are from 2017)
Pacific Lutheran (21-5 overall and 14-2 conference – 1st in NWC)
Pac Lu had an outstanding season returning to the NCAA Tournament after a two year dry spell and proceeded to surprise Trinity in 4 sets before losing to Colorado College in 5 (forever more referred to as the “Jordan Mullen Match”). Pac Lu is losing their amazing setter and a little defense but the offense is coming back and it’s for that reason that I think the Lutes will repeat as NWC champions. I’ve yet to see the full list of recruits but the primary need is a setter and I just have to assume Coach Aoki has at least one of them committed. We could also see 5’11” Izzy Zubrod take over the reins after playing right side last year. Either way, I think Pac Lu could be one of the top teams, not only in the West Region, but the nation.
UPDATE – I just received the PLU recruits and they have been posted on the Recruits Page. Two setters are coming in.
Key Out of Conference Matches – UW-Oshkosh, Millikin, Minnesota-Morris and Jordan Mullen Colorado College
Pacific (17-7 overall and 10-6 conference – 3rd in NWC)
Pacific had an under the radar type of year in 2017 where they were really a good team but garnered little fanfare. They were able to upset Pacific Lutheran late in the year at home in three games but for the most part their lack of scheduling outside the NWC hurt their reputation on the national scene. Going into the year and they return pretty much everyone offensively but unless they are able to upset Colorado College at their place, I’m not sure the recognition will come. It should be a great race in the NWC between Pac Lu and Pacific but in the end I see the Lutes holding off the Boxers.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Elmhurst, Minnesota-Morris and Colorado College
Whitman (9-12 overall and 9-7 conference – 4th in NWC)
Whitman is a nice little case study for those believing it’s tough to replace setters and liberos as the Blues lose both but not much else. Although I believe those positions are vital, it just seems like in DIII teams can recover from those losses a lot better than losing hitters. Whitman had a nice little run through the NWC last year and I think they will be a tougher team this season. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but Whitman is one of my favorite teams to stream simply because of the quality of their broadcast. I highly recommend everyone to give it a go this year.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Elmhurst, Chapman and Whittier
George Fox (9-11 overall and 8-8 conference – Tied for 5th in NWC)
George Fox seems to be in decent shape going into the 2018 season with only 23% point loss due to graduation. It’s going to be interesting to see how George Fox, Puget Sound and Whitworth shape up and where they finish to each other this year. For me, I have them on top of this little group and I think they may even challenge Whitman for third place in the conference.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Elmhurst, Colorado College and Minnesota-Morris
Puget Sound (11-12 overall and 8-8 conference – Tied for 5th in NWC)
The loggers took a huge hit from graduation (53% of points and setter) but they have a large roster and are bringing in 12 new recruits. Despite the loss of Rita Dexter I think the pieces exist to at least keep the team hovering around .500. This will be one of the teams I’m most interested in at the start of the year to see how they come out of the gates.
Key Out of Conference Matches – UW-Oshkosh, Millikin, Cal Lutheran, Whittier and Chapman
Whitworth (15-10 overall and 12-4 conference – 2nd in NWC)
Whitworth had a nice three year run where they won the NWC and took home the Pool A NCAA Tournament bid. That changed last year and I don’t see things improving in 2018. Whitworth looks to be losing around half of their points to senior graduation in addition to their setter and most of their defense. Ouch! By my count the Pirates have 10 returners with an announced recruiting class of just three student athletes. Because of this, I see the Pirates slipping down the standings this year.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Elmhurst, Berry, Transylvania, Otterbein and Emory
Linfield (11-12 overall and 5-11 conference – Tied for 7th in NWC)
2017 saw the retirement (from volleyball) of head coach Shane Kimura after 40 seasons. 2018 brings in Josh Davis, recently from UC Santa Cruz, as well as virtually the entire Linfield team. Linfield had a great start to the year before losing 11 of 12 in conference. They rebounded nicely at the end of the year beating both Whitman and Whitworth at home in Coach Kimura’s final matches. The question for 2018 is which team will show up this season and frankly I just don’t know. I’m going to put them 7th but it wouldn’t surprise me to find them in the middle of the pack at the end of the year.
Key Out of Conference Matches – McMurry
Willamette (8-16 overall and 5-11 conference – Tied for 7th in NWC)
Willamette returns the bulk of their team (16% point’s loss) and I really tried to move them up my rankings in the NWC. It really comes down to whether Puget Sound and Whitworth struggle and, if they do, how far down do they fall. I do believe Linfield and Willamette will finish the year next to each other in the standings because they are evenly matched but will it be here or higher up?
Key Out of Conference Matches – Chapman
Lewis & Clark (2-21 overall and 1-15 conference – 9th in NWC)
The Pioneers are going to struggle again in 2018. They come back in pretty good shape (only 21% graduation point loss) but the rest of the conference is just better right now. The team really played with a small roster last year and lost two seniors to graduation. They did bring in 11 new recruits so the future is probably still a couple of years away.
Key Out of Conference Matches – Southern Virginia, Washington & Lee and DeSales