Waves head coach Jonathan Winder said Pepperdine played with more confidence in the second match
The volleyball was rocketed from one side of the net to the other.
Pepperdine to Concordia to Pepperdine to Concordia and then back again. Finally, the rally, which had fans up on their feet cheering, ended with softest of taps of the ball over the net by Pepperdine’s Jacob Steele.
Steele’s kill gave the Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball team a 21-15 lead over the visiting Concordia Golden Eagles in the second set. The Waves would go on to win the set and sweep the Golden Eagles 3-0 in Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse on April 8.
The victory over the Waves’ Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponent was on Pepperdine’s Senior Night. The squad honored Steele, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior opposite, and graduate student Jaylen Jasper, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter.
Steele said winning the match on Senior Night was memorable.
“This Pepperdine program has done a lot for me the last five years,” he said. “It is good to be able to contribute in whatever way I can, so going out and getting a win was awesome.”
Senior night, Jasper explained, was an emotional experience.
“Its weird to think my time in the MPSF and NCAA is coming to an end but seeing what I have accomplished throughout my time was incredible,” said Jasper, All-American standout. “It’s a night I will never forget. We played so well as a team. Things went our way.”
Pepperdine head coach Jonathan Winder said Steele and Jasper are impressive people.
“For us and our program at Pepperdine, we take great pride in the character and qualities of the individuals that represent our program,” he noted. “Those two guys do it at a high level in different ways. It was fun to honor them tonight.”
Jasper and Steele were given flowers and had leis put around their necks before they were celebrated with their families on the court. There was also a video dedication to the two players.
When play started, Jasper and Steele rose above the net constantly and dominated on the court. Jasper finished the match with 20 kills on a .531 hitting percentage with 1 ace. Steele recorded 12 kills on a .350 hitting percentage and 2 blocks.
Pepperdine won by set scores of 27-25, 25-18, and 25-22. The win came two days after Concordia downed Pepperdine 3-1 at the Golden Eagles’ gym in Irvine.
Winder said Pepperdine played with more confidence in the second match.
“We stayed aggressive,” he explained. “It was a nice response of confidence and aggression.”
Steele said the Waves were able to slow down Concordia’s best player and attack better on offense.
“The vibe on the team was just kind of pissed off about the previous game,” he said. “We came in with fire.”
Junior setter Bryce Dvorak dished out 46 assists and nailed 2 aces for Pepperdine and junior middle blocker Andersen Fuller recorded 7 kills on a .545 percentage with 3 blocks. Senior outside hitter Akin Akinwumi had 3 kills on a .375 percentage, 4 blocks, and 2 aces.
Redshirt sophomore Joe Deluzio had 7 kills on a .700 percentage, 2 aces, and 2 blocks.
Jasper led Pepperdine in the first set with three early kills, but the score was 4-4 after Concordia rallied. The Golden Eagles took a 12-8 lead before the Waves went on a run and tied the match 22-22. A block by Akinwumi and Dvorak put Pepperdine ahead, and then a Deluzio kill gave his team the set win.
The Waves led 3-1 in the second set. A ball smacked so hard by Jasper for a kill that it slightly echoed gave Pepperdine a 7-4 advantage. The home team was up five points when Steele’s soft touch of the ball capped a rally. Another Jasper kill solidified the second set victory.
Jasper and Akinwuni propelled Pepperdine in the third set, while another slam of the ball by Steele gave them a 15-10 lead.
At one point, all the Waves were locked in awaiting Concordia to serve. All had their knees bent and eyes trained across the net — including Winder, the former Pepperdine player. Dressed in slacks and button down shirt, the coach was on the sideline crouched and ready.
Winder, who was a national champion and player of the year as a Wave, said a bit of a volleyball player is still in him.
“But I have almost been coaching longer than I played,” said Winder, a 2008 Pepperdine graduate. “It just happens sometimes.”
The Waves were up 22-18, 23-20 before Fuller ended the match with a kill.
Pepperdine has a 16-11 record heading into their home match against UCLA on Thursday. They face the Bruins in Westwood on Saturday. On April 19, the Waves will play in the MPSF Tournament in Palo Alto.
Winder said Pepperdine volleyball teams have always been good at the back half of seasons.
“What we hope is that at the end of this season we can figure out the right personality and skills on the court and that the guys can bring that on a consistent basis,” he said. “We want to be at our best for the MPSF Tournament.”
Playing well against the Bruins, Jasper noted, will set the tone for the tournament. He said Pepperdine wants to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Virginia next month.
“I’m excited to see how things play out,” Jasper said.