Seven members of the Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball team were honored during the team’s Senior Night celebration on April 16.
The volleyball players were given a bouquet of flowers and met by members of their family on the court of Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse. There, they were introduced to the crowd of over 300 spectators and cheered. The seven players — graduate students Alex Gettinger, Spencer Wickens, and Austin Wilmot, and seniors JT Ardell, JT Martin, Mason Tyler, and Ben Weinberg — then exchanged fist bumps, high fives and hugs with their Waves teammates and coaches.
Wickens, an outside hitter, called Senior Night a special moment for he and his classmates.
“We are supported in so many ways already, and for Pepperdine to show their appreciation for us is very nice to have, especially when you are winding down your playing career,” said Wickens, a second team American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American and first team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation player in 2021. “It was fun to be part of that.”
After the senior ceremony, Pepperdine beat the Stanford Cardinal in five sets in the regular-season finale. The Waves downed Stanford 25-21, 25-21, 13-25, 23-25, 15-11 two days after sweeping the visiting team for a win.
The seniors and graduate students led the way for Pepperdine. The seven combined for 49 kills.
Wilmot, an All-American middle blocker who was also an AVCA second team All-American a season ago and a second team All-MPSF player, said the Waves mixed up who got a lot of sets in order to keep Stanford on their toes.
“Spencer got a lot of sets, but everyone got a wide variety,” Wilmot, who had nine kills on .571 hitting and four blocks, said. “We kept them guessing. They did not know who was going to hit the ball because we have a lot of good options. That helped us.”
Wickens registered a team-high 19 kills on .412 hitting and added eight digs, and Gettinger, also an outside hitter, tallied 14 kills and seven digs. Martin had seven kills. Opposite Jaylen Jasper, a graduate student transfer from Stanford, who has another year of eligibility to play with Pepperdine, had 10 kills and four digs. Sophomore libero Trey Cole had 13 digs, and sophomore setter Bryce Dvorack had 51 assists, nine digs and three block assists.
Will Rottman led Stanford with 21 kills.
Pepperdine grabbed early leads of 6-4, 10-5, and 12-6 in the first set. Stanford rallied back to be down 22-21, but Pepperdine scored the final three points via two kills by Wilmot and an attack error by Stanford.
Stanford held a 17-16 lead in the second set, but the Waves went on a 4-0 run. Wilmot and Dvorak made a block that put Pepperdine up 24-20. The set ended on a Stanford service error a couple of points later.
Stanford led the third set from beginning to end as Pepperdine recorded seven errors. There were 13 ties in the fourth set, but the Cardinal eventually pulled away to take the set.
Pepperdine grabbed an early lead in the last set and never trailed. Wickens’ service ace gave the Waves a 14-10 lead, and two points later, Wilmot cemented the victory with a block.
Pepperdine head coach David Hunt called the match against Stanford a battle.
“We started off well, then we had to grind it out,” he said. “We passed the ball well. Our ball control was impressive. Bryce Dvorack just does such a good job running the offense, finding guys, and keeping them in rhythm.”
The fifth-season head coach said the game against Stanford encapsulates what Pepperdine’s graduating players have experienced throughout their careers.
“They have been through COVID; they have been through the Woolsey Fire; they have been through a lot,” Hunt said. “But, every time their backs are against the wall, they show more resilience and more values that embody what Pepperdine is all about: community, family, and being there for one another. It’s a group the campus community can be proud of.”
Wickens will always remember the work his classmates put in on the practice court to be able to register successes on the court.
“They are my best friends, and I’m very grateful to get to know these guys over past four, five years,” he said. “They are really humble, they work hard, and are great guys. There are guys competing for similar spots, sometimes those guys clash but this group of guys is something special. Guys pull for each other even though they are competing for similar spots.”
Wilmot joined the Waves’ roster in 2020 after spending three seasons at UC Irvine. While Wilmot was on their roster, UC Irvine once faced off against Pepperdine. The 6-foot-10 Wilmot had great game in UC Irvine’s victory and did some chirping on court.
When Wilmot transferred to Pepperdine, his new teammates were initially unsure of what to make of him. However, after hanging out for about month Wilmot’s classmates and the rest of Waves began to really like him.
“The guys were welcoming and inviting to me,” Wilmot said. “They made me feel like I had been with them since my freshman year. We all became close because our interests aligned. It made it an easy transition.”
Wickens said the graduating Waves have all become more mentally tough throughout their time in Malibu.
“It’s important to be a good teammate,” he said. “It’s important to have positive self-talk. We learned and adapted from the coaches.”
Hunt said the final-season Waves have always been a versatile group that embraced any style of volleyball the coaches wanted them to play.
“They are good all around volleyball players, and they are selfless,” he said. “Every single one of them just wants to do what is best for the team. The resilience they have shown has been really impressive.”
Hunt said Pepperdine’s seniors have always tried to be team leaders. This year’s crop was no different, he said.
“You want to leave the program in a better sport from when you got there,” Hunt said. “That becomes a badge of honor when you are leaving. They have taken on that role.”
Pepperdine beat Stanford 3-0 on April 14, going 25-18, 25-19, 25-19 in sets.
The Waves had a 16-9 record heading into the quarterfinals of the MPSF Tournament in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The group began its season in mid-January with a trio of wins — two over Erskine and one over Princeton. The Waves alternated between wins and losses through a chunk of their schedule until their March 11 win over George Mason. Pepperdine then downed CSUN twice, lost to BYU, then defeated BYU before claiming two wins over Concordia. The Waves fell twice to UCLA before their pair of victories over Stanford.
The Waves 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic, but in 2019 and 2021 the current last-season Waves helped Pepperdine qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Wilmot said if Pepperdine can win three games consecutively in the MPSF tournament, “The sky is the limit. I think we can go to the NCAA Tournament.”
Pepperdine, Wickens said, had some tough times this season, but had matches where they played superb by communicating on the court and playing with effort.
“Its just a matter of putting it together for this last week or two,” he said. “You want to play your best ball at the end of the year.”