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2012 Men's Volleyball Season Outlook

Matt Pollock
Matt Pollock
 
 

Jan. 5, 2012

MALIBU, Calif. – With every New Year comes a new season, and several new faces, as well as some familiar ones, will be carrying the torch for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team in 2012.  Although the Waves are relatively young this year, the 2012 campaign promises to be another competitive and exciting season for the storied program.

“We are good in most areas,” commented head coach Marv Dunphy, now in his 29th season at the helm, “but I believe it’s good to have a couple of things you are established at – whether you’re a good blocking team, passing team and so on – that you can rely on every night.  That identity hasn’t developed for this team yet.

“I know what good volleyball looks like, and we need to work hard to meet the standard I’m familiar with. This team works very hard and if we continue to improve I believe we can meet those standards.

“We’re young, especially compared to other MPSF teams who return the majority or all of their starting lineups. It will be a challenge, but I believe this group of volleyball players is up for that challenge.”

Pepperdine opens the year ranked #9 on the AVCA Coaches’ Poll after finishing the 2011 season with an 11-15 overall record and a ninth-place finish in the MPSF.

Although the Waves finished under .500 for just the sixth time in its 41-year history, Pepperdine earned marquee wins against some of the top teams in the country last year.  The team opened the season with back-to-back victories versus Ohio State, who would go on to win the 2011 NCAA Championship.

The Waves also handed out losses to USC and UC Santa Barbara, who would both go on to play in the four-team NCAA Championship tournament.


 

 

Although Pepperdine bid farewell to three starters and two additional letterwinners following the 2011 season, Dunphy has ushered in seven promising freshman and returns 13 veterans to his squad for 2012.

Headlining the list of returning players is Maurice Torres (Riverside, Calif./Orange Lutheran HS), who paced Pepperdine and ranked 12th in the NCAA with 4.04 kills/set in 2011.  With a career tally of 767 kills, the junior is on track to reach the 1,000 milestone by season’s end.

“Maurice had a real good fall and made some significant improvements,” commented Dunphy, who is assisted this year by David Hunt and Lauri Hakala. “This year, we’ll need him to be a consistent player on the court, which is something he has continually gotten better at since he was a freshman.”

Matt Pollock (Orland Park, Ill,/Sandburg HS) and Chase Ross (Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad HS) return for their senior seasons, after both earning starting gigs in 2011.

Pollock, a 6-foot-9 middle blocker, ranked third in the NCAA as a junior with a .423 hitting percentage. He totaled 208 kills, while on defense he led the Waves with 1.09 blocks/set.

Manning the other middle blocker position will likely by freshman Nikola Antonijevic (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson HS).

“Nik has been a pleasant surprise,” said Dunphy of the AVCA First-Team Boys' High School Senior All-American. “As a middle blocker, we assumed he would be good two-dimensional player, good at hitting and blocking. But his defense and serving are also solid.”

Antonijevic will have to replace the numbers put up by four-year starter Tyler Jaynes, who finished his tenure with the Waves ranked fifth all-time in the Pepperdine record book with 468 blocks.

Ross, who decided to return to the team for his redshirt senior season after being accepted into Pepperdine’s graduate school, ranked second behind Torres in 2011 with 2.50 kills/set despite missing a portion of the season with a foot injury.

“Chase is a year older and could prove to be a good leader for us,” continued Dunphy. “I’m happy for him, and that he was able to get accepted into grad school and play one last season for us. He’s healthy and going to help us out tremendously.”

Ross was a consistent outside hitter for the Waves last year, with the ability to put up big numbers. He opened the 2011 campaign with 20 kills versus Ohio State earned on a .581 clip. He reached double-digit kill totals in the next four consecutive contests, including another 20-kill performance at UC Irvine.

A handful of talented and proven outside hitters will be vying for the other starting spot at the pin, vacated by Cory Riecks. Riecks finished his illustrious career in 2011 with 1,143 kills to rank 13th all-time in the Pepperdine annuls. Freshman Josh Taylor (Honolulu, Hawaii/Punahou) is the clear front runner in the early portions of the season, with Beau Vandeweghe (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon HS) and Scott Rhein (Pleasant View, Tenn./Aaron Academy) adding significant depth to the position.

Taylor, who played alongside Torres at the 2011 FIVB Men’s Junior World Championships with the U.S. Junior National Team, built in impressive resume as a prep school standout. He was voted the Honolulu Star Advertisers’ All-State Player of the Year as a junior and led Punahou to back-to-back state championships in 2009 and 2010.

“Josh has been an opposite side hitter but has been transitioning to the left side. So far so good, he has responded well,” explained Dunphy.

“His best asset is hitting, but I look forward to helping him grow in other parts of the game.”

Vandeweghe, a redshirt junior, boasts significant playing experience having started 11 matches last year in the absence of Ross. He had a breakout performance in his first start versus USC, tallying 15 kills earned on a .545 hitting percentage to hand the then-#1 ranked Trojans their first loss of the season.

He was subsequently named the MPSF Player of the Week.

Another freshman likely to see playing time is Rhein, who earned Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 distinction and was a standout for Impact VBC in the Midwest club volleyball circuit.

“Scott’s greatest strength is that he is a good all-around player. He sees the game very well,” said Dunphy.

 “I feel like our group of outside hitters are all interchangeable. They all possess a lot of talent and should all be impact players for us this season.”

Notably missing is Parker Kalmbach (Coto de Caza, Calif./Tesoro HS), who will miss the majority of the season recovering from a back injury. Kalmbach was key reserve for the Waves last season, and averaged 1.05 kills/set in 12 matches.

Kasey Crider, who graduated in 2011 and ranks second all-time in career assists with 3,989, is a key loss for the Waves.  Picking up the reins as setter is newcomer Matt West (Seattle, Wash./Shorewood HS).

“He’s a freshman that we are going to count on to carry a big load,” continued Dunphy. “He knows it, we know it, but Matt is capable of carrying a significant load.”

Although West is a rookie in the collegiate volleyball ranks, he boasts a breadth of playing experience. He competed for Space Needle Volleyball Foundation from 2006-2011 and was a three-time MVP.

West also played extensively with the U.S. Boys’ Youth National Team, as well as the Junior National Team. In 2010 he quarterbacked the offense to a second-place showing at the NORCECA Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico. That same year, he was a member of the Junior National Team during its run to the U.S.'s first-ever gold medal at the 2010 NORCECA Men's Junior Continental Championships.

Other setters on Pepperdine’s depth chart include Doug Astor (Santa Ana, Calif./Foothill HS/Orange Coast CC) and newly added Alex Fortna (Whitehall, Penn./Whitehall HS), who transferred to Seaver College after spending a semester at Penn State.

“Doug is just solid in every way,” boasted Dunphy. “He provides a lot of leadership for this team. Alex is another valuable player and we can count on him to add depth and push others to be better.”

Defending the back court will be returning starting libero Mike McMahon (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic HS). McMahon was the only freshman to routinely be in the lineup last season, and started in all 99 sets of 2011. He averaged a team-high 1.98 digs/set – good enough for eighth in the league.

“Mike brings a year of experience, and is a real, good, spontaneous volleyball player,” Dunphy said.

Waiting in the ranks is Ryan Plueger (Los Angeles, Calif./Harvard-Westlake), Kyle Gerrans (Los Gatos, Calif./Valley Christian HS) and Brandt Ng (Orinda, Calif./Bentley HS/Saint Mary’s).

“Ryan has gotten a lot better in a year’s time. He’s a good passer and his defense has improved significantly. He’ll help us out a lot this year,” said Dunphy. “And Kyle is another valuable player for us because he provides versatility. He can help us out defensively in the back row but he is also a very capable outside hitter.”

Gerrans was a key reserve for Pepperdine last season, seeing action in 53 sets in 2011, usually coming in to serve or provide defensive support.

“Brandt is a great role player for us,” praised Dunphy of his senior libero. “He does a lot for this team just being who he is and makes his teammates better players and better people.”

Besides Pollock and Antonijevic, a middle blocking committee comprised of Joel Lopata (Deerfield, Ill./Deerfield HS), Evan Dean (Corona del Mar, Calif./Corona del Mar HS) and James Powers (Forth Worth, Texas/Trinity Valley HS/TCU) offer support in between the pins.

“Joel provides a lot of maturity for the team, and is a valuable utility player. He can play in the middle, but could also be an outside hitter when needed,” explained Dunphy.

Lopata, just a redshirt sophomore, is on pace to graduate at the conclusion of the spring semester.

Dunphy continued the praise for his middle blockers, “Evan has a lot of good volleyball in his blood and comes from an established high school program. And James is one of the best teammates a person could ask for. He does a lot for this team.”

Rounding out the 2012 edition of the Waves are reserve opposite side hitters Ryan Leung (Honolulu, Hawaii/Hawaii Baptist Academy) and Matt Tarantino (Van Nuys, Calif./Bishop Alemany HS).

Leung was used sparing last year as a freshman, but according to Dunphy has made significant strides in his game.

“Ryan has worked very hard during the offseason. He has developed a very good serve.

“Matt could play both the outside and opposite side hitting positions. He’s got a good arm, and as he gets stronger, his game will improve.”

Pepperdine’s 28-match regular-season schedule features 17 home matches at the Firestone Fieldhouse, beginning with Lewis on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.  The MPSF schedule opens on Jan. 11 at home versus Cal State Northridge at 7 p.m.

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