MALIBU, Calif. - The #4-ranked Pepperdine men’s volleyball team opens the 2013 campaign against UC Irvine, the defending NCAA champion and preseason #1-ranked team, on Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. inside the Bren Events Center. The opening week continues with a road match at UC San Diego on Saturday, Jan. 12.
MATCH 1 - Tuesday (Jan. 8) at Bren Events Center: #4 Pepperdine (0-0, 0-0 MPSF) at #1 UC Irvine (3-0, 0-0 MPSF) at 7 p.m.
MATCH 2 - Saturday (Jan. 12) at RIMAC Arena: #4 Pepperdine at UC San Diego (1-2, 0-0 MPSF) at 1 p.m.
COVERAGE - Live stats will be available for both matches this week. Additionally, UCSD offers a free live video feed. Links to all available coverage can be found on the Pepperdine men’s volleyball schedule page.
The following is the 2013 Pepperdine men’s volleyball season outlook:
High expectations surround the 43rd season of the storied Pepperdine men’s volleyball program, which officially opens on January 8 at UC Irvine. The Waves, who finished 2012 ranked #10 after placing eighth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, are predicted to be the most improved team in 2013. With 12 returning players, including three full-time starters, Pepperdine earned a preseason AVCA ranking of #4 and was picked to place third in the MPSF in the coaches’ preseason poll.
“We are excited to get the season going,” said hall of fame coach Marv Dunphy, now in his 30th season at the helm. “Overall, we are still young, but everyone learned quite a bit last year about college volleyball and we should steadily progress as we go.
“I believe this team’s greatest strength is balance, meaning we are pretty good at all aspects of the game. In past years, we’ve had teams who were really good at one thing -- whether it be blocking, serving, passing -- but weak in another area or areas. We aren’t at the level we need to be at right now, but if we can continually improve, stay healthy and cut back on unforced errors we will be successful.”
The core nucleus of starters from 2012 are back including second team AVCA All-American Maurice Torres (Riverside, Calif./Orange Lutheran HS), All-MPSF Honorable Mention Matt West (Seattle, Wash./Shorewood HS) and MPSF All-Freshman team member Josh Taylor (Honolulu, Hawaii/Punahou School).
Middle blockers Nikola Antonijevic (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson HS) and Matt Tarantino (Van Nuys, Calif./Bishop Alemany HS), who shared starting duties in 2012, are also back, although it is likely Tarantino will redshirt his sophomore year while recovering from ankle surgery. Tarantino averaged 1.51 kills and 0.99 blocks as a freshman, and was awarded with a spot on the MPSF All-Freshman team.
“We are going to miss Matt, but we still have players with experience,” continued Dunphy. “I expect a good year out of Nikola. He got his feet wet last year and he continues to improve daily on his blocking and hitting.”
Antonijevic started in nine matches during his rookie year and appeared in 17 total contests.
Making his way back into the lineup in 2013 is Parker Kalmbach (Coto de Caza, Calif./Tesoro HS), who missed 2012 recovering from major back surgery. Kalmbach, originally an outside and opposite side hitter, is fully recovered from injury and began practicing as a middle blocker last fall. The transition to the middle has been seamless, as evidence by his impressive performances during the Waves’ exhibition season.
Kalmbach averaged 2.25 kills/set in the four matches he saw action in, and paced Pepperdine with 1.13 blocks/set.
“Parker has worked very hard in the off season to get to where he is now and should prove to be a good addition to our group of middle blockers,” said Dunphy.
Three more middlemen wait in the ranks including newcomers Kyle Suppes (Union City, Calif./Bellarmine College Preparatory) and Leonardo Granato (Reseda, Calif./Grover Cleveland HS/Pierce College), as well as senior James Powers (Fort Worth, Texas/Trinity Valley HS/TCU).
Granato, who comes to Malibu with one season of playing experience at Pierce College, is the tallest member of the Pepperdine squad standing at 6-foot-9. Granato was an All-Western State Conference second team selection in 2011.
“Leo is competing for a playing spot right now. He brings a level of experience, but like Parker has not played in a college match since 2011 after being sidelined in 2012. Even so, he will be able to help us this year,” commented Dunphy on his junior college transfer.
Likewise, Suppes is working hard in training trying to earn a spot in the rotation.
Although Powers has seen little playing time in his two seasons with the Waves, Dunphy was quick to emphasize the important role Powers plays for the team. “The staff and players probably have more respect for James than anyone else. He is an integral part of this team.”
The bulk of the Waves’ offense this season will likely come from Torres, a senior opposite side hitter who has led Pepperdine in kills since his freshman campaign back in 2010.
Torres was a first team All-MPSF selection and second team AVCA All-American last year as a junior. He enters his final campaign with 1,217 career kills and a 3.96 kills/set average, and is on track to rank in the top-10 in several categories in the Pepperdine record book.
“I expect Maurice to have his best year yet,” said Dunphy, “He’s a tremendous leader by example and he has put himself in a position to continue to play volleyball beyond Pepperdine.
“The most impressive thing about Maurice is that he has improved as a complete player. He’s a good hitter, clearly, a good server and blocker and has made significant strides defensively.”
Other opposite side hitters in Dunphy’s arsenal include transfer J.J. Mosolf (Saugus, Calif./Hart HS/Hawaii) and returning sophomore Evan Dean (Corona del Mar, Calif./Corona del Mar HS).
Mosolf redshirted his freshman year at Hawaii and has a bright future as a Wave according to Dunphy.
“J.J. is a fairly complete player despite never playing in a college match. I feel confident putting him in at the opposite side or on the outside which is a luxury we haven’t always had,” praised Dunphy.
“Evan is our energizer bunny – he’s just always ready to go,” continued Dunphy. “He’s always eager to help and has done everything we have asked and more.”
Four outside hitters return from last season, three of which have had starting experience at the position. Taylor was a starter in 2012, and ranked second behind Torres with 3.52 kills/set.
“We are looking forward to Josh having a big year as a sophomore. He came to us as an opposite side hitter, and we moved him to the outside and asked him to pass last year as a rookie which was asking a lot,” commented Dunphy. “He has made significant strides as a passer and I am excited to see how he progresses throughout the season.”
Kyle Gerrans (Los Gatos, Calif./Valley Christian HS) was an integral part of the Waves’ lineup last season, playing in the back row as either a libero or defensive specialist. Now a junior, Gerrans has put himself in a position to be a starting outside hitter on opening day. He saw significant playing time during the exhibition season and produced 10 kills in Pepperdine’s first match against British Columbia, and downed 12 kills versus the Thunderbirds the second time around.
“Kyle is making himself into a good player and is working extremely hard in the weight room,” said Dunphy.
Scott Rhein (Pleasant View, Tenn./Aaron Academy) saw action in 16 matches as a freshman in 2012, with six starts to his credit. He averaged 1.56 kills/set and 1.29 digs.
“Scott is just a great all-around player,” Dunphy said. “He was out during the fall, but is coming back and continues to improve as the year goes.”
The Waves’ also have an experienced outside hitter in senior Beau Vandeweghe (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon HS), who started in 10 matches in 2011 but played sparingly as a junior. He counts as Pepperdine’s last MPSF Player of the Week after a breakout performance (15 kills, .545 hit. %) lifted the Waves over the previously undefeated and #1-ranked USC on Feb. 11, 2011.
“Beau is a consistent player and we always know what we are going to get with him. He has played well in the past, and should prove to add valuable depth to the position this year,” stated Dunphy.
Managing the Waves’ offense will be West, who started all of 2012 and produced 11.38 assists/set – second in both the league and NCAA statistical standings. West made both the MPSF honorable mention squad, as well as the all-freshman team.
He’s on par to have an even better season in 2013, coming off a 40 assists (13.33 a/s) performance in the exhibition finale vs. Alberta on Saturday. He also issued a match-best three aces in the contest.
“Matt has gained some muscle in the offseason and that has helped him become a better volleyball student-athlete. He’s doing everything that he needs to do to be better and is just a fun athlete to coach,” boast Dunphy of his setter.
Back up setter Alex Fortna (Whitehall, Penn./Whitehall HS/Penn State) is an “invaluable luxury” according to Dunphy.
“We would be lost without him in training. We don’t always have the privilege of having more than one setter on the team. Alex continues to improve himself and helps make the team as a whole better,” said Dunphy.
Dunphy’s list of liberos includes junior Ryan Plueger (Los Angles, Calif./Harvard-Westlake) and freshman Vincent Rios (Torrance, Calif./South HS). Plueger started in 10 matches as a sophomore and appeared in 20 total matches, averaging a dig a set.
“A lot is resting on Plueger’s shoulders,” said Dunphy of his most experienced returning libero. “He is seeing the game better which equates to better defense. And he is running the serve receive really well in the early going.”
Continued Dunphy: “Vinny is another capable libero. I’m completely confident using him at any time in any situation.”
Beginning last season, the NCAA implemented a new two libero rule allowing a team to utilize two liberos with the freedom to interchange them at will. Dunphy often used this rule to his full benefit, using one player during serve receive while inserting a different libero when Pepperdine was serving and on defense.
The Waves have a tough task in Tuesday, taking on the defending NCAA Champion and the preseason consensus #1-ranked UC Irvine.
“We know them and they know us,” said Dunphy about the match. “It’s a tough draw playing Irvine right away, but it would be a tough draw with anyone. The MPSF is good from top to bottom more than it’s ever been.
“There are no off-night matches in this league.”
The MPSF has grown to 13 teams this season with the addition of Cal Baptist, resulting in few non-conference matches on the 2013 slate. The Waves sole non-MPSF match is scheduled for March 8 against Hope International.
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Marv Dunphy — Now in his 30th season as head coach of the Waves, Marv Dunphy has time and again proven himself to be one of the top teachers in the sport. He has directed Pepperdine to four NCAA championships, each in a different decade (1978, 1985, 1992, 2005). He was the 2005 National Coach of the Year and is a three-time MPSF Coach of the Year. He entered the 2012 season with a career record of 532-229* (.699). Dunphy has long been involved with USA Volleyball, having been part of the coaching staff at six Olympics, including head coach of the 1988 team and consultant coach for the 2008 squad, both of which won gold. He has been inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame (1994), AVCA Hall of Fame (2009) and the Pepperdine Athletics (2010).
PRESEASON MPSF POLL - With 113 points, the Waves were picked to finished third in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in a preseason vote of the league’s 13 coaches. UC Irvine tallied the most points with 143, closely followed by BYU with 134.