ARLINGTON, Va. - In just five seasons, the Marymount men's volleyball team has quickly established itself among the nation's elite. On Saturday, the Saints will open the season at home against Division II Limestone under first-year head coach Dan Liberto at 7:00 p.m., inside Verizon Sports Arena.
The Saints, who were ranked as high as No. 8 in the poll a year ago, finished last season 19-10 and 13-1 in the CVC. They also totaled 19 wins in 2016 when they were 19-11.
"We're coming off a season in which there were a lot of highs and new experiences for this program," said first-year head coach Dan Liberto. "We competed with some of the best in the nation last year and were fortunate to come out on top of a few of those contests. This season will again feature very tough competition in and out of conference and will test us in many ways. Our guys are really eager to get going and put the uniforms on."
On the heels of last season's school record 19 wins and Continental Volleyball Conference (CVC) regular season title, there is a lot of excitement surrounding this season. Marymount returns 12 players and five starters from last year, highlighted by senior TJ Wiechecki who was an AVCA First Team All-American and CVC Player of the Year. He led the nation with 438 kills and enters this season with 1,095 for his career. He also led the team with 27 service aces and 73 blocks while ranking second with 155 digs.
Wiechecki will be joined by senior Erich Bratke who was an All-CVC Second Team selection a year ago. He led the team with 709 assists and ranked third with 152 digs. Combined with Wiechecki, the duo has appeared in 173 career matches and 573 sets.
"The obvious guys on everyone's list are our two all-conference guys from last year," said Liberto. "Wiechecki will be a big part of our offense on the right-side and Bratke returns at the setting position. Both guys will be key pieces of our puzzle."
"On the outside, Eric, sophomore Sam Safley, junior James Knight and senior Carson Caudell will compete for time," said Liberto. "Connor returns as our senior libero with freshman Jacob Martinez and sophomore Matthew Hull providing depth in that position."
One of the biggest losses for the Saints from last season is Tomasz Ksiazkiewicz who was a two-time All-CVC selection and AVCA Second Team All-American in 2016. A middle blocker, he was second on the team with 66 blocks while ranked third with 21 service aces and fourth with 122 blocks. He also posted a .374 hitting percentage.
Steranka was fourth on the team with 43 blocks last year while Shahan was fifth with 38.
The lone backup to Bratke with experience at the setting position is sophomore Joseph Zanelotti who totaled 288 assists in 16 matches last season.
"Joe and freshman Tommy Garcia will provide not only depth in the setting role, but they also bring depth to our serving options as well as providing great leadership to our culture," said Liberto.
To capture the program's first 20-win season and CVC championship, Marymount must endure another challenging schedule. The Saints are scheduled to play 10 matches against eight teams who were ranked or receiving votes in the AVCA preseason poll, including five in the top-10. Six of those matches will come against CVC rivals, No. 6 Juniata, No. 11 Kean and Eastern Mennonite who is receiving votes.
The other ranked teams on the Saints' schedule this season are No. 2 Stevens, No. 3 SUNY New Paltz, No. 8 UC Santa Cruz and No. 9 Carthage. Marymount will also face Lasell who is currently receiving votes. Stevens and SUNY New Paltz both advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Championship last year.
"It's a really tough schedule this season," added Liberto. "We aren't overlooking anyone."
Adding to the challenge for Marymount is the fact that 15 of its first 20 matches are away from home.
"We get on the road for almost a week to begin the season," said Liberto. "We get to see Carthage and Benedictine on the back end of that Midwest trip who are both quality opponents. Another fun contest will be seeing UC Santa Cruz down at Eastern Mennonite."
As for the CVC, although the preseason poll hasn't been released yet, the Saints are expected to be one of the top contenders. Joining them in the AVCA preseason poll are Juniata, Kean and Eastern Mennonite.
"The CVC will be as competitive as ever this season," said Liberto. "Juniata and EMU have established themselves as some of our toughest competition along with Rutgers-Newark and a young Southern Virginia program that will surprise a lot of teams this year."
Kean is a newcomer to the CVC as is Ramapo.
"Kean and Ramapo who have been around for years and have established very competitive programs," added Liberto. "Whoever is standing atop the conference this season will have earned it and for us, it'll come down to winning a lot of close matches and being able to handle the adversity that comes along with any season."