Schedule Analysis Part 1 or “Why I Love the Northwest Conference”

Last year I did a number of schedule analyses for individual programs. Towards the end of those articles, a lot of what I had to write was duplicated because the West Region schools share a lot of the same constraints. Those constraints meant that a lot of the schedules ended up being very similar. This time around I’m going to group a bunch of programs together so I include more schools but also talk less about each one. I went through each of the 41 schools in the West Region and looked for their schedules. Between what is posted and what my Latvian spies have found, I came up with 18 schedules so far so let’s talk a little about what we’ve got. (Side note, I just want to congratulate Inga and Juris on their marriage last week. They are both core members of my Latvian spy network and I feel sort of responsible for bringing them together. I hope they enjoy the fruit bowl I sent.)

We’ll start with the ASC, as we often do, where we found schedules for ETBU, Hardin-Simmons (HSU), Howard Payne, Louisiana College and Sul Ross State. The ASC starts conference play for a number of teams the third week of the season while others start the fourth week. Only ETBU and HSU had a tournament scheduled after the first three weeks and that is a small tournament at the end of the year at Trinity. That’s not entirely unexpected with this group of teams as only HSU has had any recent NCAA Tournament experience. For the most part the rest of these programs are in the process of trying to gain an ASC Tournament spot and building their programs.

The first weekend finds ETBU at the Austin College Tournament but that schedule isn’t fully published, yet. HSU will be at the Southwestern Tournament and that looks to be one of the better tournaments that first weekend. This tournament will have the host team, HSU, Carthage, Whittier and Whitworth. Carthage was in the NCAA Tournament last year and looks to return a really strong squad this season. It’s a great opportunity for HSU to gain some street cred early. Howard Payne, Louisiana College and Sul Ross State will be at the TLU Tournament which looks to be highlighted by the hosts but a New York Region team will also be there – Saint Joseph’s College (Long Island).

The second weekend has ETBU at the Millsaps Tournament, but the matches (teams) have yet to be scheduled. HSU will attend a really important tournament at UT-Dallas that has teams like UTD, Aurora, Pacific Lutheran, Southwestern, Trinity and Pomona-Pitzer. That’s three NCAA Tournament teams from last year. Howard Payne will be at the Austin College Tournament but I haven’t found all of the teams or schedule for that just yet. Louisiana College and Sul Ross State are not currently in a tournament this weekend.

The only two teams playing a tournament the third weekend are Howard Payne and Louisiana College as the rest of the teams are off or start ASC play. Both Howard Payne and Louisiana College are in the Hendrix Tournament that will also include the host team, TLU, JWU (Denver) and Rhodes. For the rest of the year there is that small Trinity Tournament for ETBU and HSU and Louisiana College will be playing at the St. Thomas Tournament in October.

Looking through these schedules only HSU has really put themselves in a position to have a chance at an NCAA at-large bid if they fail to win the ASC Tournament. As we’ve seen, the ASC currently doesn’t have a deep enough conference to support two teams in the NCAA Tournament as selection snubs to UMHB and UT-Dallas have been commonplace. HSU will have important West Region matches against Southwestern, Whittier, Whitworth, Pomona-Pitzer, Pacific Lutheran and Trinity in addition to matches against ASC foes UT-Dallas, UMHB and Concordia. They will also have important out-of-region matches against Carthage and Aurora. I believe Carthage will be in the NCAA Tournament this year and Aurora may be a team on the bubble when it comes to selection day if not already in.

Let’s turn our attention to the Northwest Conference and let me just say this for the record, “I love the Northwest Conference”. Sure our relationship in the past has been rocky. Some things were said in the heat of the moment that neither side really meant. But, I feel the NWC has really listened to me and opened up to the point that my love can shine through. Before I get into what I mean, let me say that we found schedules for George Fox, Lewis & Clark, Linfield, Pacific Lutheran and Whitworth. The PLU and Whitworth schedules are particularly important since they have been the conference champions for the last decade. So, why do I love thee Northwest Conference, let me count the ways or way in this case. This year the NWC has opened up three weeks for out-of-conference play instead of the standard two weeks! I’m still not seeing any late in the season tournaments for these teams but three weekends gives the top teams a real chance to beef up their NCAA Tournament resumes if used correctly.

The first weekend for the NWC teams will see George Fox, Lewis & Clark and Linfield at the Oregon Trail Classic. There are a lot of teams that we’ve uncovered in this tournament but the top team is most likely going to be St. Thomas (MN). The Tommies were an NCAA Tournament last year but it doesn’t look like any of the other teams in the Oregon Trail Classic were (as far as I have found). The Tommies will matchup against Lewis & Clark, Willamette and George Fox so these are great opportunities for these teams to take down a program that will be ranked to start the year. (With that said, the Tommies are losing a lot of talent from their 2018 squad so “upsets” are there for the taking!) Pacific Lutheran will once again start the year at the Puget Sound Tournament which is bringing in Widener, Wheaton and Rose-Hulman. None of these teams were regionally ranked last year but Rose-Hulman did win their conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. Honestly, the most interesting games to watch from this tournament will be the Puget Sound/PLU match. Puget Sound is returning a lot of talent while the Lutes are taking a bit of a hit going into 2019. Will we see a change at the top in the NWC this year?

The second weekend has George Fox heading to the Augsburg Invite where they will play some very tough teams in Whitewater, Dubuque, La Crosse and Eau Claire. The entire West Region will need to be behind our Bruins that weekend as they carry our banner over the hill. I’m a little disappointed that Whitworth couldn’t make better use of the three weeks of out-of-conference play but they head to Whitman to play an NAIA school and the host (which will not count as a conference match). Linfield has their work count out for them as they head to Cal Lutheran where they will play Concordia (WI), CMS, Centenary and Colby-Sawyer. They really have an opportunity to gauge where they are at against three of those teams and, well, against CMS they can get a taste of where they want to be. (Side note – Linfield coach, Josh Davis, was an assistant at CMS back in 2015.) Pacific Lutheran will travel out to the UT-Dallas Tournament where they will draw Southwestern, Trinity, UT-Dallas and HSU. These are big matches for the Lutes that would be make or break in past years but Pacific Lutheran will also play a tough week 3 schedule so not as much pressure this season. Lewis & Clark’s schedule is a little wonky right now with just a list of teams they are playing without any dates (and I believe they are missing some teams). Overall, it’s a bit of a step down from last season in quality until I see the full list but the Pioneers are losing a lot from their 2018 team so it makes sense.

The new and improved third weekend for the NWC will see George Fox playing Austin College at Lewis & Clark. My assumption then is that there is a tournament that weekend hosted by the Pioneers but I don’t have enough information to know all of the teams playing just yet. Linfield really embraced this third weekend opportunity and will be traveling to the Eau Claire Tournament where they draw Gustavas Adolphus, Martin Luther, Lakeland and Saint Thomas (MN). Tough competition for a squad that struggled last season but the region will be behind you as you have the banner. I mentioned PLU had a tough week three as they will be at La Verne where they will draw the host team, Whittier, Chapman and Pomona-Pitzer. Finally we have Whitworth going to Colorado College where they will draw the host team, Birmingham-Southern and Transylvania. Both BSU and Colorado College were NCAA Tournament teams last year.

Looking at Pacific Lutheran for a second and they really have a strong West Region schedule that will allow the RAC to properly rank them this year. That was a problem for the 2018 squad. They play 5 teams that were regionally ranked last year and 3 others that will be in play this year. It’s certainly enough to earn an at-large bid if they get the right wins but fail to take the NWC championship. Whitworth’s schedule isn’t that bad but it includes less West Regional teams. They play Whittier, Southwestern, HSU and Colorado College. It really forces them to win those first three matches as I don’t see them taking down the Tigers playing at their home. They do have some quality out-of-region matches with Carthage and BSU as I believe both have great changes to be in the NCAA Tournament this year. Win both of those and that helps the resume a lot going into selection. Still, I can see Whitworth being hurt at the end of the year with this schedule if the wins don’t fall in the right places. The George Fox schedule is intriguing because right now they only have one West Region team (Austin College) scheduled outside of the NWC and that team most likely will not be regionally ranked. That means they are really married at the hip through common opponent with Whitworth and PLU when it comes to the West Region RAC. The Lewis & Clark schedule (as it stands right now) means they would have to win the NWC to gain an NCAA Tournament bid while Linfield certainly plays a tough schedule but they are probably going to be more focused on improving and advancing up the NWC standings.

Off to the SCAC and we have schedules from Centenary, Dallas, JWU (Denver), Southwestern and Trinity. Most of the conference looks to start SCAC play in the third week or fourth weekend. Some teams also have an additional tournament later in the year built-in to the schedule. As a reminder the SCAC plays conference matches for the most part over the weekends in groups or pods and this means only four weekends are used up allowing more out-of-conference play to occur during the season. It really is a big advantage for the conference if they elect to use it correctly and does mean this conference typically plays more matches than other teams in the West Region.

For the first weekend we’ve got Centenary at the Austin College Tournament where I don’t have the team list, yet. Dallas has really stepped up their schedule this year and they’ll start at the Pacific Coast Classic playing Pomona-Pitzer, CMS, Chapman, Occidental and New York Region Kean University. Dallas really stepped up record-wise last year and outside of their setter is returning most of their team so it will be interesting to see how they do against this group. JWU will be hosting their own tournament but the teams all appear to be NAIA schools. As mentioned above, Southwestern is hosting their own tournament and will play HSU, Whittier, Carthage and Whitworth. Trinity always has a tough schedule and this year they start it off at their own place playing Whitman, UMHB, Minnesota-Morris and Saint Benedict. That’s three teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year which includes an important West Regional matchup with the Cru.

Second weekend has Centenary making the trip to Cal Lutheran which is great to see. They will play Chapman, Whittier, Linfield and Occidental. The last two teams will match up well against the Ladies with the first two being great tests to see if Centenary can make a step up this season. Dallas heads over to the Millsaps Tournament which is another one that I don’t have the team list for just yet. JWU hosts another tournament week two and will play Rockford, Mills College, Marian and Illinois Tech. This is a really good group to go against for this Wildcats team. Southwestern and Trinity will travel up the road to the UT-Dallas tournament and both will play Pacific Lutheran, Pomona-Pitzer, Aurora and UT-Dallas. I’ve talked about Aurora above but needless to say these West Region matches will all have RAC ranking implications.

Third weekend sees Centenary start SCAC play. They really don’t have another tournament scheduled for the rest of the year but they do play various non-conference teams sprinkled here or there and do end the season with UT-Dallas. Dallas will host a tournament this weekend and will play Alfred, McMurry and Millsaps. They also play in a tournament in October where they will travel to Washington-St. Louis to play the host team, Lakeland, Monmouth and UW-Stout. Right now, it appears JWU is off this week before starting SCAC play. Southwestern doesn’t have a tournament scheduled but will be playing Concordia and ETBU. They will be playing in the Carnegie Mellon Tournament at the end of the year, which promises to have a number of good teams but I don’t have the team list just yet. Trinity will play in the East/West Challenge this week which for the past few years has brought together some of the best teams in the nation. They will draw the host team, Washington-St. Louis, in addition to Juniata and Cal Lutheran. Like I said before, Trinity always plays a tough schedule. Later in October, they will host another tournament where they will play UC Santa Cruz, Ohio Northern, UMHB and Rowan.

Overall, Centenary has a nice schedule although some of the teams have yet to be identified. I like teams to have a challenging schedule and I think the Ladies have succeeded in this. Challenging may not be the word I would use for Dallas’ schedule…maybe suicidal? They get both CMS and WUSTL so they are not shying away from anything this year. JWU’s schedule is certainly not at the level of these two teams but it’s a good one for them. They are trying to rebuild as they become a full DIII member and they have a number of competitive matches ahead of them. Southwestern lost a number of players going into last year and they took most of the year before they were playing their brand of volleyball. They are sort of facing the same issue this year and this schedule will not be kind if they come out slow again. With that said if they come out fast they play some of the best West Region teams in Whittier, Whitworth, Pacific Lutheran, UT-Dallas, and UMHB in addition to SCAC foes Trinity and Colorado College. Oddly, the Whittier match-up may be huge for them since that is their only SCIAC team they face. They also have a strong out-of-region presence with Carthage, Aurora and the teams that will be at the Carnegie Mellon Tournament. Trinity just says bring it on. They are a little heavy on the out-of-region teams with Minnesota-Morris, Saint Benedict, Aurora, Juniata, WUSTL and Ohio Northern. That’s a good lineup to face and they still play enough in the West Region to be ranked properly by the RAC.

Before I get to the SCIAC, let me take a little break and insert UC Santa Cruz here. They always have to go last so let’s go through this independent team’s schedule. Scheduling without a conference behind you is tough but it appears Santa Cruz has a solid schedule this season. They host their own tournament the first weekend where they will play Husson, Bard and Franklin. (Note – I had to double check all three to ensure they were DIII schools.) They head down the road week two to Cal Lutheran where they play the host team, Chapman and Whittier. Week three finds them at La Verne where they play the host team, Puget Sound, Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier (again). They stick around an extra day and play at Occidental on a Sunday. For the rest of the season they play at the Arcadia Classic and the Trinity Invite where they will get matches against Trinity and Ohio Northern. To round out the year, they will have matches with Redlands and Chapman. Overall, they play most of the SCIAC in addition to Puget Sound and Trinity. They play a number of out-of-region teams that should prove challenging but none are going to be top-flight programs this season. They have enough on the schedule to make a run at the Pool B bid(s) and that’s a job well done. They just have to win the matches put in front of them.

We finish this long article with the SCIAC where we only found schedules for Chapman and Occidental. The SCIAC looks to be starting conference play the fourth weekend but both teams seem to be only playing two tournaments this season. The SCIAC is usually really good about having tournaments the first couple of weekends and then one during the season so I expect when I see the other teams in this conference that they will be playing more than these two teams.

The first weekend has both Chapman and Occidental at the Pacific Coast Classic. Chapman will play Carroll, St. Olaf, Dallas and Platteville. I would expect the Panthers to do well against all four teams with only St. Olaf being regionally ranked last year (8th in the Central). Occidental draws Kean, Wentworth, Benedictine and Dallas. All will be good tests for Oxy to see if they can bounce back from a down 2018 season. Kean is out of the New York Region and won their conference last year but wasn’t regionally ranked.

The second weekend has both teams at the Cal Lutheran Tournament so it appears there will be no out of freeway travel, which is disappointing. Chapman will play Centenary, Colby-Sawyer, UC Santa Cruz and TLU. Occidental will play Concordia (TX), Puget Sound, Centenary and Colby-Sawyer. For the second weekend in a row I will say it’s a good test for Oxy but Chapman really shouldn’t be tested. As for the rest of the year it’s mainly conference play. Chapman will get Pacific Lutheran at home on the third weekend, which will most likely be their toughest match prior to SCIAC play.

I really don’t want to come down too hard on anyone when I do these articles because I really don’t know what finances these programs have to deal with but, Chapman, come on. The Panthers have won 10 matches in conference play the last two years and qualified for the SCIAC Tournament each time. They had a couple of the best freshman in the region last season but were really hurt by the RAC for their weak schedule and their corresponding horrid Strength of Schedule (SOS) in 2018. They take the lesson the RAC tried to impart on them by not regionally ranking them at the end of the season and honestly come up with their weakest schedule in years. With this schedule they really don’t have the luxury to slip up and then must really do well in conference play to have any chance at an at-large bid. Chapman will benefit from playing in one of the best conferences in the nation so that will help their SOS but they either need to finish first or second to make the NCAA Tournament. Frankly, even a second place finish will be no guarantee for the Panthers depending on how low their SOS ends up being. Sorry to be so negative. Maybe I should have left UC Santa Cruz for the end?

We’ll see if we can uncover some more schedules over the next month or two and put out another article. I expect my Latvian spies to be a little more productive once Juris and Inga come back from their honeymoon.

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3 thoughts on “Schedule Analysis Part 1 or “Why I Love the Northwest Conference”

  1. Remember that the 2019 schedule is one of the “extra week” years. So if there was any season a team might want to get to a tournament this would be it. With Labor Day on Sept 1 or 2, you get 12 weekends between Labor day and Thanksgiving, instead of the usual 11. This will happen next in 2024 and 2025.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup. Thought about it but I know the NWC was thinking about doing this anyways. Giving them the benefit of the doubt.

      Please don’t try to ruin this relationship. I’m really trying to work on this. 😁

      Like

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