Jan. 5, 2005
MALIBU, Calif. - By most accounts, a 19-9 overall record and advancing to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) semi-final game would be considered a successful season. But at Pepperdine expectations are higher. The Waves have laid claim to four NCAA National Titles but none since the 1992 season. With another solid recruiting class, Pepperdine is again looking to be a force in 2005.
This year's squad will look to its seniors for leadership, a class which boasts the return of Volleyball Magazine's 2004 "Player of the Year" in Sean Rooney. The six-foot-nine outside hitter is a three-time American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American and two-time MPSF first team selection.
"Last year we set Winters or we set Rooney," says Head Coach Marv Dunphy. "This year we will set Rooney and Rooney. It is no secret we will look to him to carry a huge load."
The other two seniors, John Mayer and James Ka will make position changes as the team looks to find the perfect balance between players and positions. Mayer, who quarterbacked the Waves to a .367 hitting percentage a year ago, will move to the libero position, a position vacated by Ka who moves to the outside.
And Pepperdine's success will depend on the team's ability to successfully adapt to change.
"With a freshman setter and changes at four other positions, I don't anticipate us being perfect early in the year," notes Dunphy. "When players get comfortable with their new positions we will be good."
Rooney will again lead the offensive attack from the outside for Pepperdine. The Wheaton, Ill., native recorded a team-leading 461 kills a year ago and already ranks in the program's top 10 in several offensive categories. But someone will have to fill the shoes of Fred Winters who was lost to gradation. Winters ended his career in the school's top 10 for kills, total attacks, service aces, digs, block assists and total blocks. Fighting to fill the void will be veterans Ka, Jon Grobe, Tanner Sutherland possibly even newcomer Corey Spencer.
While the Waves may be smaller on the outside than in previous seasons, the team will post a big block in the middle, a unit led by junior Andy Hein and John Parfitt. Hein led Pepperdine in attack percentage in 2004 (.441), while recording 243 kills and 124 blocks. Parfitt should be game tested after playing in 84 games as a freshman last season, hitting .432 with 145 kills and 94 blocks. Look for sophomore Tom Hulse to compete for a starting position after seeing action in 45 games as a freshman.
"All of our middles have the experience and talent to have good years," says Dunphy. "Hein continues to improve and should be one of the top middle blockers in the conference."
The "X-factor" will be the setter's position. A highly touted freshman enters to run the Waves' offense in '05 as Jonathan Winder will be handed the keys to the Pepperdine attack. The coaching staff has high expectations for the "Fab 50" setter from Irvine, Calif. But Dunphy and Co. think they have the type of support cast in place to allow Winder to be successful while learning the collegiate game on the fly.
The coaching staff was not immune to change as former Pepperdine standout Scott Wong has added his expertise to Dunphy's staff. Dunphy will embark on his 22nd season at the helm of the Wave's and has just completed a trip to Athens, Greece, where he served as a consultant for the U.S. National team which advanced to the Bronze medal game of the 2004 Olympics. Rick McLaughlin returns for his fourth season with the Waves, while Chip McCaw will serve as a volunteer coach.
Pepperdine will again compete in the ever-tough MPSF. After eliminating its divisional format three years ago, the top eight teams will earn the right to compete for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in the conference tournament. If all goes well, the season will end in Pepperdine's backyard as the 36th NCAA Championship tournament will be held at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, May 5 and 7.