Now in its 20th year of existence, the Lewis men's volleyball program has morphed into one of the nation's top teams under 10th year head coach Dan Friend.
Under Friend's tutelage, the program made a NCAA National Semifinal appearance in 2012 and collected three combined Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) regular-season and tournament titles. The program has had 12 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and Volleyball Magazine All-Americans as well.
The Flyers, with a program-high 18 home contests on the slate, open the season at Neil Carey Arena, starting with two-time defending national champion No. 1 UC Irvine on Jan. 1. Lewis' matches in the first month of action alone will have the squad take on four programs that are ranked in the AVCA Preseason Poll.
"We have a great schedule that will challenge us right from the beginning," Friend said. "We have one of the best home crowds in the country and our guys are excited to play in front of them."
The Flyers will face squads from all four conferences this season before getting into their MIVA slate of contests.
"The MIVA will be tough because several teams return key players and didn't graduate many," Friend said. "Every match will be a battle, which will make for a dynamic season."
Lewis returns five starters from the 2013 regular-season MIVA champion squad, including AVCA and Volleyball Magazine All-Americans BJ Boldog (Palatine, Ill./Palatine) and Geoff Powell (Claremont, Calif./Claremont).
"We have 14 guys who have been in the gym going on their third year," Friend said. "There is a sense of maturity and experience that I believe will help us as the season goes on."
"We have a good core group of offensive players that return for us," Friend continued. "We will mix in a few new guys, who will be able to jump right in."
Boldog, a two-time team captain, finished the 2013 season 10th in the country averaging 10.29 assists-per-set. In 2013, he garnered AVCA and Volleyball Magazine All-America Second Team status, as well as Capital One Academic All-America Men's At-Large Third Team accolades. Boldog, with 3,356 total assists, is 33 assists shy of breaking the career assists record (3,389) set by Mike Iandolo (2008-12) in the rally-scoring era.
Sophomore Scott Fifer (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg) returns at the setter position, not only building off of his experience last season but pushing for playing time. Fifer dished out a career-high 28 assists against IPFW.
"BJ is the backbone of this team, leading by his strong worth ethic and his desire to compete and win," Friend said. "Scott has made some great strides over the past year and will be ready when needed."
Powell, a, AVCA All-America Second Team and Volleyball Magazine All-America First Team selection, leads the Flyer outside hitters along with junior Greg Petty (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove North). Last season, Powell paced the Flyers in kills (385) and kills-per-set average (3.68), which put him 14th nationally. Petty, who has been a constant presence on the floor for the past two seasons, will look to fill the other starting position for the Flyers.
"Geoff is a physical and dynamic player that has improved his ball control to keep raising his level of play every year," Friend said. "Greg had a great fall.
"We are looking forward to Greg settling into the outside spot and making an impact."
Other outside hitters include redshirt sophomore Will McCall (Fellsmere, Fla./Sebastian River) and utility man redshirt junior Eric Butch (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South). While McCall saw limited action for the Flyers, Butch returns to his natural position as an outside after filling in as a libero last season.
"Will has found a groove and is playing some of his best volleyball," Friend said. "Eric is doing some good things physically for us and provides great energy for the team."
Also waiting in the wings to make an impact are redshirt freshmen Kyle Rohde (Brookfield, Wis./Brookfield East) and Riley Rutan (San Diego, Calif./Patrick Henry).
After a breakout season, junior opposite Eric Fitterer (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville) returns hungry to extend his high level of play. He was third on the squad with 257 kills to average 2.68 kills-per-set and second with 22 service aces.
"Eric is excited to reach the next level in his game," Friend said. "He will be tough for opponents to stop when he attacks."
Redshirt sophomore Patrick Lilly (East Northport, N.Y./Commack) and junior Tom Logan (Kenmore, Wash./Bishop Blanchet) are both looking to aid the Flyer offense. Lilly contributed last season as a go-to serving substitute, tallying 18 aces. Logan transitions to an attacking role after being a setter for the Flyers.
"Patrick has been pushing Eric (Fitterer) everyday in the gym for playing time," Friend said. "Tom adds depth and aggressiveness to the position that will only make us better."
The Flyers return senior Yiwei Zhou (Nanjing, China/Nanjing No. 1) and sophomore Bobby Walsh (Chicago, Ill./Mount Carmel) at the middle blocker position. Zhou, recovering from an off-season shoulder surgery, and Walsh both ranked among the top-10 in the MIVA in total blocks and blocks-per-set last season. Walsh was second in the MIVA with 132 total blocks to average 1.20 blocks-per-set, while Zhou collected 100 blocks for a 1.14 blocks-per-set.
"Yiwei is getting back into action after shoulder surgery and looking to compete at a high level," Friend said. "Bobby had a great freshman campaign and looks to build on his experience to improve and make a bigger impact."
Redshirt junior James Hofmann (Cincinnati, Ohio/Archbishop McNicholas), redshirt freshman Jacob Schmiegelt (Lombard, Ill./Willowbrook) and freshman John Hodul (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg) all wait in the wings to make an impact at the middle blocker position.
"James is physically one of our best athletes and will push for a starting role," Friend said. "Jacob and John have both have put in the hard work in the gym, as both look to make their mark on the program."
The Flyers have gotten deeper at the libero position this season as junior Andy Orf (St. Charles, Mo./Christian Brothers) and junior transfer Lucas Yanez (Burbank, Calif./John Burroughs) battle for the starting role. Orf saw some action last year, collecting a career-high 10 digs against Quincy. Yanez joins the Lewis squad after being a two-year starter at LA Pierce and was the 2013 Western State Conference Most Valuable Player.
"Andy has mentally and physically matured to put himself in a great position to become the Flyers' starting libero," Friend said. "Lucas brings two years of playing experience that has already made our gym consistently better."
Senior Victor Schaefer (Cooper City, Fla./Chaminade Madonna College Prep) brings competitiveness and energy to the position as he looks to compete for playing time as a libero and a serving substitution.
Facing one of the toughest schedules in program history hasn't detoured the Flyers from their goals of capturing not only the regular season MIVA title, but also reach the NCAA Tournament and compete for a national championship.
New for the 2014 season, each of the four conferences tournament champions will receive automatic bids to the tournament along with two at-large teams. The top two seeded teams will receive byes into the national semifinal, while the other four squads battle to advance.
"The coaches and I have seen the guys put in the work to improve and continue to strive towards their individual goals and our team goals," Friend said. "We have a chip on our shoulders after losing to Loyola in five in the MIVA Championship match.
"We have put it in perspective and learned from the loss," Friend continued. "At the same time, using it to fuel some fire to return, win the title and continue to advance will be important."
Lewis University is a Catholic university in the Lasallian tradition offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 6,600 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The seventh largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. Visit www.lewisu.edu for further information.
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