Pepperdine's big gun
By Cindy Luis (email@example.com) - He got in for one play late in the 2005 NCAA men's volleyball championship match against UCLA as Pepperdine was rallying at Pauley Pavilion. Jon Grobe's brief appearance was from the service line, where the reserve sophomore hitter netted his lone attempt.
Grobe's frustration turned to elation soon after. The Waves completed the comeback with a 30-23, 23-30, 24-30, 30-25, 15-10 victory, earning Pepperdine its fifth title.
Two years later, the top-ranked Waves are looking good to make it a sixth. This time around, Grobe (Iolani '02) is an integral part of the 14-1 team, starting all 15 matches at left-side hitter, and is first in digs (97) and second in kills (137).
Ironically, the fifth-year senior nearly didn't stick around for this season. Grobe could have graduated last April with his degree in advertising and headed off to the business world.
Instead, Grobe added a minor in political science and will graduate April 28, the same day as the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match. He's hoping to remain part of Pepperdine for another week, when the NCAA championship is held at Ohio State.
"I'm really happy I stayed for a fifth year, it's worked out well," Grobe said. "We're right where we want to be. School is wrapping up, but there's a lot of volleyball left to be played."
This season, Grobe has played in 53 of 54 games, quickly approaching the combined totals of his three previous years (86 games and 185 kills).
"I took my blows for a couple of years," said Grobe, who played three matches as a freshman, 10 as a sophomore. "But playing against players like Sean Rooney (the 2005 national player of the year) and (libero) James Ka in practice only made me better, and it made me tougher.
"At first, it was a real change. I went from being center stage to behind the scenes. But I didn't expect to come on the scene and do anything special in the beginning."
Grobe had been a two-sport standout at Iolani, all-league and all-state in volleyball and basketball. He was a starter as a senior when the Raiders won the state basketball title and were state runners-up in volleyball.
When it came to college athletics, Grobe had to decide between the two sports. The choice came down to academics: He could opt for basketball, but it would be at a Division II or NAIA school, or go for volleyball at Division I.
It came down to Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara, with the Malibu school winning out.
"I've heard it for five years that I've gone from paradise to paradise," he said. "If you have to leave home, you might as well make it feel as close to home as possible. You can see the ocean from campus.
"The combination of the coaching staff, good volleyball and good academics is what decided it for me."
It was Grobe's reputation as a feisty competitor and solid student that sold Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy. "I saw him play briefly and liked what I saw," said Dunphy, the former U.S. national and Olympic team coach. "But I also had a recommendation from (former Princeton setter and Iolani coach and teacher) Peter Greenhill, who said he was a good kid from a good family.
"He has improved in all parts of his game and is carrying a bigger load for us this year. If I had to pick a couple areas (of the most improvement), I'd pick passing and blocking. This year, he's playing like I expected he would. He's becoming a good player.
"He's a solid team guy. He always says the right things at the right times and is a pretty tough kid."
Grobe's favorite memory of his career was when the 2005 championship team was invited to the White House.
"That was surreal," he said. "Then you're there, regardless if you like the politics, it's still the President of the United States.
"We were standing there and (George W. Bush) comes around the corner. Wow. It catches you by surprise that you're really there and that's really the President."
Grobe said there have two highlights so far this season. One was beating UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in five without starting setter Jonathan Winder and topping then-No. 1 Brigham Young twice, 3-2 and 3-0, to cap Pepperdine's Homecoming Week festivities.
Grobe had 10 kills in the five-match win against the Bruins and 14 kills in the five-match win against the Cougars.
The Waves have lost just once, in five, at home to Long Beach State. They've won 11 straight coming into their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation series next week at Hawaii.
"We are playing well right now, but there's always room for improvement," he said.
And room for another NCAA title. It would be the perfect way to start off his birthday weekend; Grobe turns 23 the day after the national title match is played.