April is the golden month for men’s volleyball, as the regular season wraps up, conference tournaments get going and the NCAA Tournament awaits on the edge. With the season coming to its final stages, we have compiled some of the top candidates for Player of the Year in the NCAA Division I-II Men’s volleyball classification.
Of course, winning is extremely important to the award just as the individual numbers – which eliminates or lessens cases of some players putting up gargantuan totals on losing teams. Big time moments also matter to this discussion. We kick off the list below in no particular order, just in an alphabetical (based on last name) lineup as we give some of the top candidates to watch:
Karl Apfelbach | UC Irvine – Junior Opposite
UC Irvine has a legit shot at making the NCAA Tournament via at-large bid and Apfelbach is maybe the main reason why. He’s been the clear-end top option for the Anteaters offense with a team-best 3.80 kills per set (fourth in the Big West) on a .301 mark. He also tacks on solid numbers of 1.24 digs per set, 0.81 blocks per set and 0.33 aces per set, leading to the eighth best mark in the NCAA in points per set.
TJ DeFalco | LBSU – Junior Outside Hitter
The defending National Player of the Year is leading the number one – and only undefeated – team in the country in kills per set and doing so on a .402 hitting percentage (second in the Big West). He’s also fifth in his league in digs per set and sits atop the conference in aces per set. With as good as the 49ers have been, he may be the frontrunner for the award.
Kyle Ensing | LBSU – Junior Opposite/Outside Hitter
Despite having DeFalco on the team, Ensing still ranks in the top 20 of the country in points per set (4.26). In fact, he only has five less kills than DeFalco on the season and is also in the top 15 with DeFalco in hitting percentage. DeFalco proves to be a stronger back row player and server, but Ensing brings more to the block at the net with 0.83 per set.
Arvis Greene | CSUN – Senior Opposite
Greene ranks second in the entire county in kills per set (4.48), but first for teams ranked. Of course, with this award winning matters too, and Greene had pushed CSUN into the top 10 with a late surge. He’s also hitting at an efficient .310 mark and gets more points off of his 0.56 blocks per set and 0.36 aces per set to pair with 1.11 digs per set.
Daenan Gyimah | UCLA – Sophomore Middle Blocker
Gyimah may be the top middle in the country, at least offensively, as he totals a .523 hitting percentage – which leads the nation. His 2.12 kills per set also combines with his 1.16 blocks per set (sixth in the NCAA) and 0.38 aces per set give him strong point numbers for the position on one of the top teams in the land.
Christian Hessenauer | UCLA – Senior Opposite
Hessenauer is the top scoring option for a balanced UCLA team and ranks 15th in the country in that regard. It’s fueled mainly by his offense (3.58 kills per set on a .331 mark) but is helped by a great block rate for his position (0.95 per set) and 0.26 aces per set. He’s not a factor in the back row, but his importance showed more than anything when he was injured and UCLA really struggled in his absence.
Jeff Jendryk | Loyola Chicago – Junior Setter
It would be easy to put Collin Mahan on this list instead of Jendryk with more volume in attacks, but Jendryk’s impact on defense in blocking puts him over the edge. He ranks 40th in the country in that regard, in addition to a strong mark of 2.32 kills per set from his position. He’s also the second most efficient player in the country with a .484 mark for a team currently ranked sixth in the country and tied atop the MIVA.
Micah Ma’a | UCLA – Junior Setter
The highlight plays that Ma’a makes have been ridiculous this season, as he also plays a vital role in the UCLA attack that ranks third in the country in hitting percentage. Specifically for Ma’a, his 10.71 assists per set are third among everyone while he may be the strongest scoring setter in the nation with 1.46 points per set (0.73 kills per set, 0.50 blocks per set and 0.47 aces per set). He also digs 1.67 per set and is maybe the top all-around setter in the game.
Brenden Sander | BYU – Senior Outside Hitter
Sander and his teammate Gabi Garcia-Fernandez both could have pretty equal footing in being here, but Sander gets the edge despite a lower points per set number (4.30 to 4.18). The differences is that Sander is hitting .316 for the second-ranked team in the country with Garcia-Fernandez at a .262 clip. Sander’s numbers come from a combination of strong offense, a solid serve and a strong block for his position to get him on this list.
Keenan Sanders | UCSB – Sophomore Opposite
The top player on a fringe and occasional top 10 team throughout the season, Sanders ranks 24th in the country in points per set (4.13). His efficiency isn’t as high as some others at .269, but it’s still a solid number in the big picture. He also is basically non-existent in terms of aces, but buoys his candidacy with 1.76 digs per set and 0.47 blocks per set.
Tanner Syftestad | UC San Diego – Senior Opposite
UCSD isn’t ranked and has a losing record, so Syftestad is an exception to the rule of winning for this award. That will likely keep him from taking the award, but his numbers are impossible to ignore. He leads the NCAA in points per set (5.41) and kills per set (4.62) while also hitting .320 with top 75 ranks in the nation in digs per set (1.66 – 72nd) blocks per set (0.81 – 57th) and aces per set (0.35 – 45th). Not to mention this has been a year of improvement for the Tritons (already a two-win increase) behind Syftestad’s abilities.
Nicolas Szerszen | Ohio State – Senior Outside Hitter
Szerszen might have a say in the award he won back in 2016, but will need to finish strong to have his best chance. The Buckeyes are now ranked in the top five once again and tied atop the MIVA with Szerszen totaling 3.69 kills per set on a .392 clip (ninth in the NCAA). He’s got a phenomenal all-around game to match though with 2.09 digs per set (31st in the country), 0.53 aces per set (sixth in the nation) and 0.38 blocks per set.
Sanil Thomas | Ohio State – Junior Setter
Ohio State’s offense ranks fourth in hitting percentage with Thomas sitting at the top mark in the nation in assists per set (11.26). His team’s recent trend up in the rankings helps him here as well. He also tacks on 1.79 digs, 0.34 blocks and 0.28 aces per set as well.
Josh Tuaniga | LBSU – Junior Setter
The one dishing the ball and making things easier for DeFalco as well as Ensing is Tuaniga, who facilitates the most efficient offense in the country for the nation’s best team. He also ranks fourth in the country and second in the Big West in assists per set at 10.66. His digs per set are only slightly behind DeFalco (at 1.91 per set) too, but obviously his highest mark comes from leading the attack.
Stijn van Tilburg | Hawaii – Junior Outside Hitter/Opposite
Ranking fourth in the nation and second among top 10 teams in kills per set (4.24) on a .366 hitting percentage (16th in the NCAA), van Tilburg is the highlight of a powerful Hawaii attack. Although he doesn’t have the best numbers via serve and block, they are good enough to push him to the seventh most points per set in the country while doing so on a top 10 team.
Pelegrin Vargas | Fort Wayne – Sophomore Outside Hitter
Fort Wayne didn’t start the year on the map of the rankings, but surfaced with a strong non-conference portion and are surviving through a difficult MIVA path. Vargas is at the forefront for reasons why, as the most dynamic player on the Mastodons ranks 17th in the country in points per set (4.31). He’s not the most efficient player on this list at .277, but it’s still a very good mark with his quantity of attacks as he ranks eighth in the NCAA in kills per set (3.81).
Hayden Wagner | George Mason – Sophomore Opposite
Wagner leads the top team in the EIVA (who is still unbeaten in said conference) with a league-best 4.47 points per set, which also ranks 11th in the country. That mostly comes from his 3.74 kills per set (11th in the country) on a .271 mark to go with 0.57 blocks per set and 0.42 aces per set (22nd in the NCAA).
Matt Walsh | Ball State – Senior Middle Blocker
Ball State started the year with high hopes, dipped down early, but then re-emerged with some big victories in the tough MIVA. Leading the charge for the team is Walsh, who averages 2.37 kills per set from the middle blocker position – good numbers. He’s also hitting at a high .388 mark (12th in the country) and is a strong blocker with 1.12 per set (eighth in the NCAA) to go with his 0.31 aces per set.
David Wieczorek | Pepperdine – Junior Outside Hitter
Wieczorek has perfectly coincided with Pepperdine’s success after he missed the first couple weeks early in the year. Sure enough, they’re now in the NCAA Tournament discussion as he ranks third in the country in points per set (5.05) and is sitting at a .361 hitting percentage. He’s got a nasty serve too that notched 0.56 aces per set – fourth in the NCAA – and adds on 1.14 digs and 0.81 blocks per set.
Joe Worsley | Hawaii – Junior Setter
Hawaii has fallen off a bit, so it seems a bit odd they have two players on this list, but it’s almost impossible to keep off the setter who ranks second in the country in assists per set (11.06) while facilitating an attack that is second in the nation in hitting percentage (.353). Worsley doesn’t bring a ton of points with the serve, but he does play solid defense (1.83 digs per set and 0.55 blocks per set) to add to his offensive leadership.
Raymond Barsemian | Concordia Irvine – Sophomore Outside Hitter
Dante Chakravorti | UC Irvine – Junior Setter
Corey Chavers | UCSB – Junior Outside Hitter
Ryan Coenen | Lewis – Sophomore Outside Hitter
Gabi Garcia Fernandez | BYU – Freshman Opposite
Hunter Howell | Concordia Irvine – Junior Middle Blocker
Collin Mahan | Loyola Chicago – Junior Outside Hitter
Angelos Mandilaris | Barton – Sophomore Opposite
Scott Stadick | UC Irvine – Sophomore Middle Blocker
Garrett Zolg | Loyola Chicago – Freshman Setter
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