Pepperdine men’s volleyball seeks to build upon 2008 success

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In Saturday's game, Stanford University had no answer for Pepperdine senior Paul Carroll, who finished with a game high of 19 kills. Photo by Sam Rubinroit / TMT

With five national championships, Pepperdine men’s volleyball has a rich tradition of excellence and success. This year’s team seems up to the challenge of making some history of its own.

The fourth-ranked Waves (4-0) have had a strong start to the season. They won the Brian Mallard Invitational in Canada, and, on Saturday, they upset third-ranked Stanford University in a three-game sweep.

The Waves hope to surpass last season’s success. In 2008, Pepperdine entered the MPSF Tournament as a fifth-seed, but ended up winning it and earning a position in the NCAA tournament. The Waves advanced to the championship game, finishing the season as the national runners-up behind Penn State.

This season, the Waves return with 10 of the 14 players from 2008. However, Pepperdine has to replace setter Jonathan Winder, who was the NCAA Player of the Year and a four-time All-American before graduating. The team will also be without senior outside hitter J.D. Schleppenbach, who is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

“I do not think we can replace those two guys,” Head Coach Marv Dunphy said of Winder and Schleppenbach. “They are two great players, so we are having everybody pick up part of the slack.”

So far, the Waves have found players to adequately substitute for Winder and Schleppenbach. Sophomore setter Kasey Crider was named the MPSF co-Player of the Week, and Cory Riecks and Matt McKee have played well as outside hitters.

Pepperdine will count on senior Paul Carroll for his talent and leadership. Carroll has the impressive credentials of being selected to the All-MPSF team three times, being named an All-American two times, and making the All-NCAA Tournament team twice. In 2008, he led the nation in kills and points, and earned the title of Australian Male Volleyball Player of the Year.

“[Carroll] is a big guy who sees and plays the game well,” Dunphy said. “He leads by example.”

Dunphy has immeasurable credibility with players and recruits. In his 26 seasons at Pepperdine, he has guided the Waves to four NCAA men’s volleyball titles, coached 32 first-team All-Americans, and has been named National Coach of the Year. He was head coach of the Gold-Medal winning 1988 Olympic volleyball team, and was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame. Nobody prepares more than Dunphy, who records every play on film and has his staff constantly enter statistical data into computers during games.

“[Coach Dunphy] is a big reason why a lot of us came here,” Carroll said. “Over the four years I have been here, I feel like I have been growing as a person as well as a player, and I credit him and how he carries himself for that. When he walks into the gym, everyone knows he is there. He demands attention, and not because he talks loudly.”

As good as the Waves have looked so far, Dunphy said he knows they could be better, citing receiving and serving as areas for improvement.

“This team has a ways to go,” Dunphy said. “We are not meeting some of the standards we need to meet, so that is what we are focusing on. There are a lot of really good volleyball teams this year, and we hope to be one of them.”

Pepperdine’s next home game is Friday against sixth-ranked USC at 7 p.m.