During a panel discussion in Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse last month, a member of the Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball team asked a group of Waves volleyball alumni what makes a great teammate.
Tom Sorensen, a three-time All-America, who led Pepperdine to the 1992 NCAA championship, pulled out his phone and read a letter he sent to another Pepperdine alumni, George Roumain, who was the AVCP National Player of the Year in 1998 and 1999 after Roumain beat him out for a spot on the U.S. National Team.
Sorenen asked Roumain if he was a good teammate. Sorensen got emotional and then recited Roumain’s response in which he told Sorensen how much teammates matter.
Marv Dunphy, the Waves’ head coach emeritus, said the moment was momentous for everyone in the gym.
“That really hit home,” said Dunphy, who coached Pepperdine for 34 seasons and to four NCAA crowns before retiring in 2017. “The pure love they have for a teammate then and now is pretty special.”
The question and answer session between past and present Waves was part of Pepperdine men’s volleyball’s Jan. 21 Alumni Night, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1992 Waves squad that defeated Stanford to win the NCAA crown.
Around 60 Waves volleyball alumni from as early as the 1976 team, including almost ten members of the 1992 bunch, attended the event. The former college volleyball players talked with Waves players, toured Pepperdine’s athletic facilities, viewed footage of their past games, conducted interviews with Pepperdine’s communications staff, and went to a reception. The 1992 champions were honored during a break in the current Waves team’s match against UC Santa Barbara that evening.
Lee LeGrande, a member of the 1992 Waves, enjoyed the event.
“It’s a super special time when you can get together with people that mean so much to you and have been such a big influence in your life,” said LeGrande, a professional volleyball player after college who is now a Realtor in the South Bay.
Dunphy, the 1992 team’s head coach, said the day wasn’t about past big smashes or blocks on the court. Instead, the coach said, the focus was on the journeys to successes all the alumni had with their teams.
“It was catching up at the highest level,” Dunphy stated. “To see them is just the best. We shared some really neat times. I’m so excited for who they are, what they have become.”
Days before the celebration, Waves All-American volleyball player Austin Wilmot hoped he and his teammates would meet with the 1992 champions and pick their winning brains.
“I’d love to talk about their experiences, learn about what their team culture was, and find out what they had to do to win a national championship,” he said.
The panel discussion was for that, said Dunphy.
“The message was that the alumni care about the younger players,” the coach said. “I think that came across. It was fun. It was nice to see the young players hear from guys they heard about.”
Pepperdine defeated Stanford 15-7, 15-13, 16-14 to win the national championship in 1992. The Waves downed Long Beach State and Penn State in earlier matches before the title bout. Alon Grinberg was the MVP. Grinberg, Sorensen, and Chip McCaw were named to the All-NCAA Championships squad.
The 1992 team was inducted into the Pepperdine Hall of Fame in 2008.
That team 30 years ago, Dunphy recalled, wasn’t the strongest, biggest, or fastest group of players, but they were tough.
“Nothing phased them,” he said. “We used to have a pretty high standard for them on offense—it was beyond a championship standard, but still obtainable—one of the reasons we won that championship is that we reached for that standard and nailed it one time before playing in the championship. So, we had dealt with some stress in training. When we got in the championship match, it served us well.”
LeGrande described the road to the title that season as a grind.
“When I look back on it, I am so glad I bought into the journey and the process,” said LeGrande, a college junior in 1992. “It taught me a lot of great life lessons—teamwork, believing in each other, believing in yourself.”
He was reminded of all his past practices as soon as he stepped into Firestone Fieldhouse. Alumni Night was extra important for LeGrande because he brought his 9-yeard-old son Liam, a burgeoning volleyball, with him.
“He sees all the world titles in basketball, baseball, and football, but to see your dad win a championship, it makes it more real for him,” said the older LeGrande about his son seeing video of the championship win.
Dunphy is in frequent contact with the alumni and cherishes opportunities to get together with them.
“The best thing about coaching is you get to choose the people you go through life with,” he said. “It’s neat for me to see how much they care deeply about Pepperdine volleyball and their teammates. Teams are special and something they may never experience again.”