Men's Volleyball Season Outlook
The Pepperdine men’s volleyball team may boast the nation’s best 1-2 punch in senior setter Jonathan Winder and junior opposite Paul Carroll, and for that, the 2008 Waves were awarded the preseason status of favorite in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Few college teams can likely match the experience and talent of Pepperdine’s duo. Winder, a three-time All-American, was the AVCA and MPSF Player of the Year last season. Carroll was an All-American first teamer who also starred for Australia during the 2007 World Cup.
Add in the return of junior outside hitter J.D. Schleppenbach, who was second on the team in kills last season, and half of the Waves’ starting lineup from a team that made the national semifinals is intact.
The big issue the 2008 Waves will face, however, is that the other half of the lineup will be vastly different, as both middle blockers and one outside hitter, as well as the libero, graduated from the 2007 squad that went 26-3 overall, won the MPSF regular season with a 21-1 record and was ranked #1 in the country for much of the season.
Unfortunately, the Waves came up short at the end of 2007, losing in the final of the MPSF Tournament to UC Irvine and then to Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. As they try to make the next step and win the school’s sixth NCAA championship, 25th-year head coach Marv Dunphy knows he will have to quickly develop some capable replacements.
"We lost a lot of experience," he said. "And after our fall practice, we still have a ways to go. For a lot of the players who are out there for the first time, they got a small dose of what is expected of them. They know the standard that needs to be met. We’re going to have to grow up fast."
With question marks about how Pepperdine’s inexperience will play out, Dunphy was a bit surprised when the MPSF preseason coaches’ poll came out and the Waves had a slight edge at the top over BYU and UCLA. Nationally, Pepperdine is ranked #2 by the AVCA and #6 by Volleyball Magazine.
"I think that schools that have most of their players back have an advantage over the teams that have lost a lot," he said. "There are five or six teams that have everybody back and that’s a tremendous advantage. There are some other programs that probably should have been favored. But my guess is the reason they picked us is because of Jonathan and Paul. We have a couple of guys with great experience, All-Americans last year, but there’s another side of us that’s pretty darn young."
Winder (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge HS) was the starting setter as a freshman in 2005 when the Waves won the NCAA championship. Each year, his status has improved, as he went from the All-American third team as a freshman to the second team as a sophomore to the national player of the year as a junior. He has averaged 13.36 assists per game over his three-year career. He helped the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2007 World University Games in Thailand.
"Jonathan is really knowledgeable and is a bright young man to work with," Dunphy said. "He competes well and he’s tough. He leads by example and is not afraid to take charge when need be. He had a great year last year."
Carroll (Forster, Australia/Great Lakes College) had an outstanding 2007 with both the Waves and his native Australia. During the college season, he ranked second nationally in kills (5.6 per game) and points (6.67), both of which were also the best marks at Pepperdine since the switch to rally scoring. During the fall, he went to Japan to compete with the Australian National Team at the World Cup, and he finished second among all players with 183 kills.
"Paul is a very smart hitter with really good range," Dunphy said. "It’s no secret that he’s going to see a lot of sets. He was good last year and I expect him to be better this year. He’s a very competitive individual."
Schleppenbach (Ventura, Calif./Ventura HS) started at libero as a freshman but moved to outside hitter last season, and was second on the team with 2.73 kills per game.
"J.D. should have a big load as an outside hitter," Dunphy said. "He did well for us last year and I’m looking for even more this year."
A pair of juniors who have waited for their turn to break into the regular rotation should have their opportunity in 2008. Middle blocker Eric Liebert (Honolulu, Hawaii/Punahou School) has appeared in 13 games in two seasons with seven kills and eight blocks. Outside hitter Matt McKee (Aurora, Ill./Aurora West HS) has played in 41 games in two seasons with 19 kills.
Two players looking to vie for the libero spot have yet to step on the court for the Waves. Sophomore Sean Grubbs (Newport Beach, Calif./Newport Harbor HS) transferred from Irvine Valley College, where he led the team to the state junior college championship. Redshirt freshman Andrew Kurzeka (West Hills, Calif./Notre Dame HS) did not see any action last season.
Tom Hulse, a starting middle blocker the last three years, has now graduated. He may be replaced by a family member, as younger brother Mark Hulse (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township HS) has joined the Waves. Mark was the starting setter at Rutgers-Newark the last two seasons, but at 6-foot-8, he’s being converted into a middle blocker for the Waves.
The Waves had the nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class according to Volleyball Magazine (the fourth time in the last six years Pepperdine has had a top-five class), and three recruits in particular stand out. Setter Kasey Crider (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay HS), middle blocker Tyler Jaynes (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay HS) and outside hitter Cory Riecks (Auburn, Calif./Placer HS) have been part of the U.S. Youth National Team system and were all Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 selections. The three played together for the Northern California Volleyball Club and Crider and Jaynes were prep teammates. Although Crider will be Winder’s backup, Jaynes and Riecks are expected to play right away.
Other returners looking to help the Waves to a successful 2008 season include senior middle blocker Alex Castillo (Oceanside, Calif./Carlsbad HS), senior middle blocker Brent Smith (Brea, Calif./Brea Olinda HS/Irvine Valley CC), sophomore middle blocker Patrick Powers (Fort Worth, Texas/Country Day HS), sophomore outside hitter Brent Schirripa (Los Angeles, Calif./Crespi Carmelite HS) and redshirt freshman middle hitter Grant Hilling (Newport Beach, Calif./Northwood HS).
In addition to Grubbs and Hulse, junior setter Kyle Luongo (Palmdale, Calif./Highland HS/Pierce CC) is the third transfer to join the Waves this school year.
The Waves boast five true freshmen. In addition to Crider, Jaynes and Riecks, outside hitters Chase Ross (Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad HS) and Trevor Van Uden (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks HS) should have promising futures.
After the exhibition season ends, MPSF play begins immediately, and Dunphy knows his youngsters will need to be ready from the beginning, as there are no easy nights.
"There was a time when there were some really good teams and some teams that weren’t so good, so you knew going into some matches that if we play well and they play well, we win," said Dunphy, who is assisted by Scott Wong and Craig Choate. Now, I think on a match-by-match basis, we play well, they play well, and it’s a battle. The MPSF is a tremendous league."