Waves men’s volleyball notches wins to begin season

The Pepperdine Waves men's volleyball team has started an undefeated record. Photo by McKenzie Jackson.

The squad began its regular season on Jan. 3 with a 3-0 triumph over Fort Valley State

The Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball team did a great Kardiac Kids impersonation in their 3-0 exhibition victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Dec. 30 at Firestone Fieldhouse. 

The only difference was the Waves stagged their comeback wins on the volleyball court as opposed to the gridiron like the 1980 Cleveland Browns, the original “Kardiac Kids.”

Pepperdine trailed by as much as four points in the second set and were down by seven points in the next set before pulling out the consecutive nail-biting wins. 

Pepperdine won the first set in dominating fashion. 

Waves head coach Jonathan Winder, a former Pepperdine player, said winning close contests is nothing new for him or the 21-member team. 

“I’ve played a lot of games and coached a lot of games,” he said. “So, that happens. It’s a good sign for our group that they are pretty tough and have a lot of belief in their skills. That was really neat to see from a bunch of different guys.”

The Waves won the first set 25-20 and never trailed.

The home team took a 3-1 lead in the second set, but then the visitors from Canada began a reign of kills and blocks that either had them tied with the Waves or in the lead.

British Columbia led 19-15 when Winder called a timeout. After the timeout, the Waves cut the Thunderbirds’ lead to three points, but a British Columbia player hit the ball like a rocket to the floor of the other side of the net to increase their lead. The Waves knotted the match at 24 thanks to a great defensive play at the net by graduate student middle blocker Akin Akinwumi and graduate student middle blocker Martin De Chavarria. The Waves denied five-set point opportunities to win the match 30-28. 

British Columbia led 7-4 in the third set when Akinwumi hit an ace. However, the Thunderbirds didn’t relent and went on to hold leads of 13-7, 18-12, and 20-13, before the Waves stormed back into the match. Back-to-back aces by graduate student outside hitter Alex Mrkalj tied the set at 23. The Waves denied another two set-point chances en route to winning the set 28-26. 

Akinwumi led Pepperdine with 13 kills, four digs, one block, and one ace. De Chavarria tallied five kills and three blocks and Mrkalj registered two aces, three kills and one block. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Kevin Roberts had eight kills, six digs, and one block. Senior libero Trey Cole had 11 digs; freshman setter Ryan Graves had 34 assists, five digs, and one kill; and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Ryan Barnett had seven kills, two aces, five digs, and one block. 

The Waves defeated another Canadian squad, the University of Alberta Golden Bears 3-2 in an exhibition on Jan. 2. Mrkalj had 10 kills and Roberts had nine. Barnett had eight kills.

The squad began their regular season on Jan. 3 with a 3-0 triumph over Fort Valley State. 

Akinwumi had 10 kills in the contest and Roberts tailed 11 kills with two blocks.

Pepperdine downed Morehouse College two days later, also 3-0. Sophomore opposite Jake Olson led Pepperdine with eight kills. 

The Waves host LIU on Saturday at 5 p.m.

The Waves finished the 2023 campaign with a 16-14 record. The team’s season ended with a 3-0 loss to Grand Canyon in the quarterfinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. 

Preseason training, Winder said, was good for the Waves.

“We have a good group of guys that are working really hard,” he said. “We are looking forward to the season.”

Winder said Pepperdine has high expectations for this season. 

“The standard is always really high,” he said. “That doesn’t really change. We are trying to live into the history and tradition of the program and become the best team we can become.”