The 50th season of Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball started with a trio of victories last week.
The Waves, ranked ninth in national polls, won three exhibition contests at Pepperdine’sFirestone Fieldhouse Dec. 30 to Jan. 1. After the 3-2 triumph over the Brandon University Bobcats, a Manitoba, Canada-based squad, on New Year’s Day, Pepperdine head coach David Hunt said the Waves improved each match.
“We competed better every time we stepped on the court,” he said. “We controlled the ball pretty well and we play together pretty well. That is going to be our strength.”
Hunt said the games were used to refine the skills and plays the Waves worked on during fall practice. The coach said the matches were important because Pepperdine’s roster is awash mostly with players with little or no college volleyball game-time experience.
“With so many guys that are inexperienced, we are looking to get some experience under their belts before we go into matches that count toward our record,” Hunt said. “We are just trying to fine tune our play in terms of offensive systems, defensive systems and defining what our roles are.”
Pepperdine began its preseason schedule with a four-set win over another Canadian team, the University of Guelph Tigers. The bunch downed Princeton, a team they beat in last spring’s NCAA Tournament, in three sets the next day. The Waves began their 24-contest 2020 campaign on Jan. 5 by hosting Cal Lutheran.
Pepperdine enters this season coming off its most fruitful campaign in 10 years. The Waves, one of the most storied programs in college volleyball, finished last season with 23-7 record and advanced to the semifinals of the NCCA Tournament last May. The senior-laden crew also captured the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season and tournament titles.
However, Hunt noted, this season’s Waves are a completely different band from their predecessors a season ago.
“These guys on the floor now weren’t on the floor last year, so there is no point in comparing them to the group last year,” he said. “What we do is explain the standard of expectation of what playing at Pepperdine means—what doing your best is. I just want the guys to be invested in right now and try to get better every day.”
Only four upperclassmen volleyballers from the 2019 bunch—seniors Noah Dyer and Robert Mullahey and juniors Spencer Wickens and Alex Gettinger—are on the 21-member lineup now. Additionally, 11 Waves are redshirt or true freshmen.
Hunt said having a less experienced roster led to heavy emphasis on breaking down what needs to happen during competition.
“Now, we will start to get into this phase of forming our identity,” he said. “We think we know what we have, and we know where we want to go, but there is going to be that intersection of where we want to go and what we have in reality, and what is going to maximize the skillset we have.”
Hunt said the younger Waves are talented but have made some errors in training due to their lack of know-how on the collegiate level.
“It’s exciting because they can do some things that are pretty unique,” he said.
The Pepperdine coach said the returning players from 2019 worked hard over the offseason to improve.
“All the guys that returned are better versions of themselves,” Hunt said. “All the guys that returned are going to have different roles.”
Hunt’s squad downed Brandon, 25-23, 25-16, 24-26, 27-29 and 15-11. Gettinger, a junior outside hitter, led Pepperdine with 15 kills, four digs and three aces. Freshman opposite Scott Solan had 14 kills, five digs, and three aces; redshirt freshman middle blocker JT Martin posted 13 kills and three aces. Wickens, an outside hitter, had 12 kills, five digs and two aces.
The Waves defeated Guelph two days earlier, 20-25, 25-14, 25-21 and 25-22 and claimed an extra fifth-set triumph, 19-13. Freshman opposite Scott Solan led the team with 12 kills and five digs. Pepperdine beat Princeton 25-16, 25-23 and 25-20 on the last day of 2019. Redshirt freshman opposite Jacob Steele paced the Waves with nine kills, seven digs, and three block assists and Dyer, the senior outside hitter, posted nine kills, six block assists and two aces.
Pepperdine’s next six games are set away from Malibu. The squad plays at Daemen in Amherst, NY, on Jan. 14 and at Harvard the next day. George Mason will host the Waves in Fairfax, Va., on Jan. 17, and defending national champions Long Beach State will host Pepperdine down the coast on Jan. 25. The Malibu team will play Stanford in Palo Alto on Feb. 6 and go against BYU two days later in Provo, Utah.
The Waves’ first regular season home contest is on Feb. 12 against Concordia-Irvine at 7 p.m. This match will be the beginning of Pepperdine recognizing each decade of men’s volleyball played at the university in celebration of this season being the 50th anniversary. The 1970s will be honored first.
Additionally, all Waves men’s volleyball alumni are welcomed back on campus March 13-15. Pepperdine will host UCLA on March 13. The following day, past Waves will be able to interact with the current squad at practice. A reception will be held for alums on March 15 when Pepperdine hosts Harvard.
Hunt, a Pepperdine assistant coach for a decade before becoming the head coach, couldn’t recall a season where Pepperdine had this many fresh faces battling over and around the net, but said watching the latest Waves hit the practice floor for the first time or face a skilled opponent is exciting.
“The youth a lot of times can be energetic because it’s the first time for them seeing those things,” he said.