Falling one miracle short

Senior setter Jonathan Winder hoists the second-place trophy the Waves earned in the NCAA tournament. Photos by Seth Rubinroit

Pepperdine’s storybook postseason run came to an end with a loss in the national championship.

By Seth Rubinroit / Special to The Malibu Times

The Pepperdine University men’s volleyball team lost to top-seeded Penn State 3-1 (27-30, 33-31, 30-25, 30-23) on Saturday in the NCAA national title match at the Bren Events Center on the campus of UC Irvine.

The Waves had the support of a large contingent of fans that made the drive from Malibu to Irvine and constituted the majority of the sold-out crowd.

Pepperdine (17-11) jumped out to a hot start. In game one of the best-of-five format. After trailing early in the game, they came back to win, 30-27. In the second game, Pepperdine led 29-28 and only needed one more point to win the game. But the Nittany Lions came back strong, capturing the momentum and the game, 33-31. Penn State (30-1) went on to win game three, 30-25, and game four, 30-23.

“I give a lot of credit to Penn State,” said Pepperdine head coach Marv Dunphy, who has led the Waves to four national championships. “We had a lot of chances. We snuck back and took game one. [Penn State] made some great plays to take game two. Maybe if we got that game it might have been different. But you cannot play the shoulda, woulda, coulda game.”

Pepperdine was led by junior opposite Paul Carroll, who accumulated 35 kills; senior setter Jonathan Winder, who had 60 assists and junior outside hitter J.D. Schleppenbach. The three Waves were named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team.

“In true Dunphy-coached team style, [the Waves] battled with everything they had, and they made us play pretty well,” said Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik, who guided the Nittany Lions to their second NCAA title.

Penn State was led by Matt Anderson, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after registering 29 kills.

Few expected Pepperdine to advance this far. The Waves started the season on the wrong foot after Carroll missed eight matches in the beginning of the season due to a fractured right hand. The Waves only won three of the eight matches Carroll missed. But the Waves got hot once the star player returned, winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament and defeating Long Beach State in the NCAA national semifinal match, three games to none. Carroll played so well in that match he was named a first-team All-American.

“We had a good run at the end [of the season],” Dunphy said. “To have a chance to compete for the national championship and then come up short is tough, though. We can say we got better as time went on, but it might take a while for that to sink in.”

After the match, the Waves graciously accepted their second-place trophy, and looked on as the Nittany Lions hoisted their championship trophy.

“I felt they made some good plays at the right time,” Carroll said of Penn State. “They are a pretty good team.”