Today, I am concluding my week of previews/predications with the entire West Region.
Here is my prediction on the top teams in the West Region. I will rank only 8 so as to mimic the West RAC and as the season goes on, I will once again try to anticipate their rankings.
- Colorado College
- Pacific Lutheran
So, you thought you could just look at my Top 25 list and order the West Region teams? Ha! Me smartest than you!
Yes, I changed the ordering a bit. It’s probably a good lesson for me to go through the more in depth conference/team reviews before spitting out a Top 25 list. Oh, well. The first change is moving Trinity up from 6th to 4th and that’s because their “graduating” senior right side is sticking around to play her 4th year of eligibility. I just like the stability she offers and my only concern now with the Trinity Tigers is finding that second outside hitter. The other change is swapping Southwestern and Whittier. The loss of setter Megan Grimes tips the scales for me and makes this 8th slot more wide open to the rest of the region.
Back to the ordering, and Colorado College should come out blazing. They have a tough schedule but their first 11 matches are at home and they don’t lose there. They do have to play at Southwestern in September and that could be trouble if the Pirates can fill their holes in time. They have Trinity the next weekend in Dallas, but I think it could be the Washington-St. Louis match in early October that will give them their first loss. I really think this is probably a 2 loss Colorado College team and then it’s just a matter if they pick up their third loss in the NCAA Tournament or not. My Pacific Lutheran pick is a little out there and it could all come crashing down for me (well, and the Lutes) if they drop their opening match against UW-Oshkosh. The way their schedule is constructed, this is really a must-win with respect to gaining national recognition. They have Millikin that first weekend but they should suffer a drop off from their strong 2017 team. They really need to go 4-0 that first weekend prior to their trip to Colorado College. Losing at Colorado College is understandable but the Lutes do have a chance here. It would be something to see the Lutes go 8-0 and then scamper off to the Northwest for the rest of the season. That’s the crux of the thing, the Lutes have a chance to go undefeated early and then try to run the table in the NWC or drop 2 or 3 early and probably not get any love from the AVCA all year. There is a little hope behind the CMS selection at 3. I’ve heard good things but my source is very biased. Let’s say CMS struggles a bit early, which would be normal with their graduation losses. Losses to JWU (RI), Southwestern, UT-Dallas (once), Trinity, Emory and Washington-St. Louis would put them at 5-6 because their early schedule is so tough. That’s not going to happen but it shows you how important it is for them to get going early, and I’m betting they will. Trinity at 4 just seems a little safer than UT-Dallas. They almost always put a strong team together but their schedule is another tough one. The plus side is that they get a lot of their tough matches at home to start the year. I’ve raved about UT-Dallas to all that will listen and I end up putting them 5th in the West Region. It’s just a sign of how difficult this region really is. I do think while Colorado College is in a tier by itself, the next tier includes the teams ranked 2 through 5 and any order of finish within these teams wouldn’t surprise me at all. To me, UT-Dallas comes down to the health of Brinkman and Zeng. If they are 100% then it’s like getting two experienced transfers to come into an already good team. It’s actually better because they are already part of the team. I need to stop or else I’ll talk myself into moving them up to #2. UMHB scares me a bit with this pick just because I’m unsure on their setter. If they don’t have a good one in place then they slide down the rankings but 6 seems like a good location for the Cru. My only concern with Whittier was their end of the season swoon. They are a really good team that will challenge for the SCIAC title, but the West Region looks deep again. I can see them moving past UMHB but I’m not sure they can get much further. My beloved Southwestern is full of questions going into the season and frankly a number of freshmen will need to play prominent roles for this ranking to pan out. Even if this wasn’t “my” team, the Pirates would be a team to watch that first weekend to see how they shake out.
Best of the Rest (no order) – Cal Lutheran, Chapman, La Verne, McMurry and Pacific
Cal Lutheran is always in the mix so I’m not counting them out in the west. I’m on a bit of a limb with Chapman. They could be in the 8th spot in the West Region or they could falter. I just like a team that brings in known top talent (two DI transfers). Prior to diving into the region more this past week or so, I had thought La Verne was heading for a drop to the middle of the SCIAC (at best). But, they should be strong again this year. McMurry is interesting. Their first chance at a championship for over 6 years has to motivate you a bit, right? I like Pacific a lot and I think they are going to cause problems for the West RAC during the year as to where they get ranked.
Team not mentioned that could shock the world with an NCAA bid – UC Santa Cruz
You laugh? Hey, I got Whittier right last year in this spot! (Please don’t go back and look at this post from last year. Trust is required in any relationship.) There will be two Pool B bids this year and there are a lot of bad independents. The Banana Slugs will need a lot to go right but I’m not counting them out.
Teams that need to be mentioned but weren’t – Austin College, George Fox, Pomona-Pitzer, TLU, UT-Tyler and Whitman
The West Region has a lot of good teams. Put any of these teams in another region and I’d like their chances at an NCAA Tournament bid a lot more. Austin College always seems to win 20 matches a year but are just buried behind really good teams in the SCAC. They have 15 recruits (!) this season. If someone asks you to buy lunch for the ‘Roos team this season…decline or take out a loan. George Fox has a lot to like but I struggle with two teams making it out of the NWC and I just think PLU and Pacific are too strong. Pomona-Pitzer would scare me in the SCIAC just a bit. I don’t see them getting past CMS or Whittier but could a sneaky team in the SCIAC get a third bid? I really liked TLU before I saw they lost both Griffin and Mikelonis. Too much offensive firepower gone to compete in a tough conference. UT-Tyler is not eligible for DIII tournaments due to their pending move to Division II, but they are going to beat people this year and they will count as DIII losses. Whitman has the same issue as George Fox. I like their potential but just a logjam at the top of their conference.
Division III is just too fluid. I guess all sports across all divisions are but seeing players that I would select first-team All-Region in Grimes and Griffin not listed on their team’s roster is a gut check. What other surprises are out there? As far as NCAA selection in early August, we know that 8 bids are about all we can hope for based on recent history. We know that our conference tournaments don’t often lead to a surprise team and when they do (UT-Dallas over UMHB last year), another team in the West suffers as opposed to a 9th team getting a bid. The first 7 spots in the West Region RAC should be locks for bids and then a little hope is required for the 8th. I do believe there will be teams from each conference ranked by the West Region RAC come selection time so I don’t believe an undeserving team will get a bid from the West. In the ASC, the questions will be can they get two bids and can McMurry sneak into the conversation. In the NWC, I really see this as a two team race and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Pacific Lutheran have a high West RAC ranking and then lose focus and get upset by Pacific in conference play. Colorado College just seems like a total lock in the SCAC and the only question I see there is whether the conference will receive three bids again. In the SCIAC, the first weekend should shed some light on how good CMS will be and whether they will take the conference title. But there are a number of other good teams and will this conference only get two bids again? And then we have UC Santa Cruz trying to put a lot of pieces together and claim one of the two independent bids (Pool B).
In the end, my best guess is listed above. That 8th spot is so important not only for the teams competing but for where the regional will be played. Right now I have 4 Texas teams in the tournament compared to only 2 California teams. That means a Texas regional. But swap Southwestern for Chapman or La Verne or Cal Lutheran and now it’s 3 to 3 and it becomes a California regional if CMS is ranked the highest. This will all play out and we get to enjoy it while it does. Best of luck to all of the West Region teams!!!