This is the second go-around where I try to find the 2019 rosters for the West Region teams and see if there are any unexpected losses other than graduating seniors. I also take a look to see what holes the teams have going into the season and who might be in position to fill them. In the first installment, I looked at Southwestern, Trinity and UT-Dallas and this time around we have Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Concordia and Pomona-Pitzer.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) is an important program to dive into as they are going to be one of the top teams out of the region and if their roster stays intact they are probably one of a handful of teams that have a really good chance at the national championship. Their 2018 roster had 17 players listed at the end of the season with a grand total of zero seniors. That’s zero as in 0 as in nada as in zilch. Just to be clear, that’s 0% statistic loss due to graduation. Right now the team expects to lose a backup right side player and maybe a backup outside. If true, that takes them down to 15 players. The loss of possibly two backups isn’t good as you would expect them to take on bigger roles this year, but the team had so many injuries in 2018 that almost everyone healthy got decent playing time. Bottom line, this CMS team will be returning all of their starters from last year so there are really no holes to fill.
I currently have CMS adding 6 recruits to their team, which includes a sophomore transfer. This would bring the team up to at least 21 players for 2019. It may be a little on the large side but this coaching staff has to worry about replacing 5 seniors next year including the West Region Player of the Year, Phoebe Madsen. (Not to mention All-Region teammates Sarah Tritschler and Amanda Walker.) As far as the recruits coming in they have a nice mix of positions, which includes a setter, a 6’2” middle and an all-everything type player out of Hawaii. With no positions to fill, the expectation might be to take a seat for a year but a lot depends on how the coaching staff uses Madsen this year. CMS basically tried every lineup possible last year and Madsen was equal to the challenge in every regard. If the coaching staff pulls back on Madsen a bit this season then opportunities for others open up.
Overall, with no statistics loss due to graduation and (knock on wood) full health the Athenas should hit the ground running in 2019. To be clear, that’s not hit the ground running, fall down, break a leg and end up in the hospital!!! CMS is coming off a national championship from just 2-years ago so they have the experience to make another run. If they have a weakness it will be at the outside position but their roster is littered with players that can fill that hole and two of the recruits could also get time there. One player to watch for here is 6’4” sophomore Melanie Williams (injured most of 2018). If Madsen stays on the floor and she probably should then Williams will need to move over to the left. If she can handle that position then the nation needs to watch out. Looking at their schedule, they have a couple of good tests the first two weeks before they go against some of the nation’s best teams in week 3. Plenty of time to get it figured out.
Concordia was a good team last year with 19 wins and are a team that I look to in 2019 to make a push for an NCAA Tournament spot. They have published their full roster so we now can take a good look at who is leaving and who is coming in. The Tornados are only losing one senior – defensive specialist Haley Mandeville – so on the surface they should be able to absorb that loss. The problem comes in when we see that they are losing 4 non-seniors from last year’s squad and that the roster was only at 14 total players at the end of the season. The losses include a middle (378.5 points), an outside (255 points) and two defensive specialists. When I look at the returners, I don’t see a replacement for the middle. Sophomore Brooke Keltgen or Junior Alexis Bustos look like they might get the first chance at replacing the production on the outside but overall the bench is really thin on hitters.
With only 9 returners, the Tornados needed a good class coming in and they were able to bring in 9 additional recruits. The coaching staff wasn’t messing around either, as 7 are hitters and four of those are 6’ or taller. The cupboards are no longer bare on the Tornados bench and we’ll just have to see which freshmen step up to fill the holes. I should also point out that two of their recruits are sophomore transfers (one each at outside and middle).
Concordia is another team that was essentially losing 0% of their points to senior graduation but the losses mentioned above sort of change the story. There are now questions going into the season with this team but with 18 players, the coaches have a number of options now. Looking at the Tornados’ schedule and they should have one week to figure things out as they play teams that should challenge them but teams they should beat. The second week finds the team in SoCal where they will draw CMS and Cal Lutheran so this now young team will need to grow up fast.
Pomona-Pitzer was a 13-15 team last year but they went 10-6 in the tough SCIAC. Looking at some of their out-of-conference losses and I just shake my head and what could have been for this team in 2018. That’s a real negative way to say that I expect the Sagehens to perform more like their conference record than their overall record in 2019. Last season they had 20 on the roster and only lose 2 seniors, but unfortunately both were major contributors. Sophie Janssen gave up hitting last season as she moved over to libero and ended the year with 471 digs. Julia Zwaal was a marvel on the outside playing hurt at times but finished with 313.5 points. Julia was a favorite of mine to watch as she stood only 5’6” but consistently got the job done. Right now the team lists everyone returning but with such a large roster and with a few players not getting much time in 2018, this may change. One thing to point out is that the Sagehens will have 8 seniors on the squad this year but the main contributors (hitting) after Addo-Ashong, Zwaal and Kelly were all freshmen and sophomores. Looking again at 2019 and with that large roster, the Sagehens do have players returning that can step in at libero and outside but the greater issue with the team is the lack of overall height.
Pomona-Pitzer currently lists 6 recruits incoming for the year and no surprise four of them are 6’ or taller. I believe they will put pressure on the returners to fill that outside slot and maybe even force their way in to another starter’s spot. Having 24 on the roster is not going to be easy but with the 8 seniors you can certainly see why the coaching staff needed to go that route. I haven’t really talked too much about the libero spot because there are returning players that can step in but don’t sleep on their new recruit from Hawaii also vying for that spot. Never underestimate a Hawaiian volleyball player when it comes to defense.
Overall, Pomona-Pitzer is going to be really interesting. They are losing 21% of their points to graduation but I think with this recruiting class they may be better than they were last season. I think another key is getting Isabel Kelly healthy for the entire year and moving her points/set stat a little higher. Another thing to watch for is the setter’s position and who and what lineup the coaches decide to roll with here. Looking at their schedule and I think the first week is going to tell us a lot. They play four teams that they really need to beat but were the type of teams that tripped them up last season. Things get tougher that second week when they play at the UT-Dallas team.