Jan. 28, 2006
A few months ago, J.D. Schleppenbach (Ventura) was just hoping to walk without pain in enough time to begin preseason practice.
Having just endured a second surgery to his injured knee, the Pepperdine freshman didn't want to let his expectations get the best of him.
But Schleppenbach displayed enough of his old skills to make coaches take notice, and the 6-foot-3, 178-pounder has gone from sidelined to starting for a national championship team.
He made his collegiate debut starting at libero last week against Stanford and finished with 10 digs to the delight of several Ventura fans who made the drive down the coast to watch the four-game Pepperdine victory.
"It was really exciting being on the backline and hearing them say 'No. 9 J.D. Schleppenbach,' " Schleppenbach said. "I never imagined I would be starting, and it was great to do it in front of a packed house with so much energy in the crowd."
Schleppenbach is hoping the fresh start puts his injury troubles in the past for good. They started in high school when he broke his foot the summer before his senior year.
After finally rounding into shape, he tore the meniscus in his left knee during a basketball game and never returned to the basketball or volleyball court.
"It was pretty frustrating to miss my senior year," he said. "But injuries happen, and I knew I had to keep looking forward."
Pepperdine began pursuing Schleppenbach long before the injuries as a recruited walk-on.
"They said they thought I was a great player, but they didn't have any scholarships to offer me," he said. "But Pepperdine was the first school introduced to me as a volleyball school, so it was always in the back of my mind to go there."
Coming from a volleyball family -- his father, Peter, is a respected club coach and his older sister played -- Schleppenbach caught the bug early.
"I was always around it, and every chance I could touch the ball when I was a kid, I did," he said. "I think that really helped me a lot in my progress."
Schleppenbach had a chance to make an impression on Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy during a preseason trip to Canada, and the rookie didn't disappoint.
"I have always been a good passer, and I think they saw that," Schleppenbach said. "Whatever I can do to help this team, I will do."
Playing for a national championship contender is something Schleppenbach envisioned after receiving his first recruiting letter as a sophomore in high school.
"That's when it hit me I have a chance to do something special. Each year I got closer and closer, and when a setback happened, I kept fighting to get through it," he said. "At times, it was hard to be patient. But with patience comes reward."