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Brother Against Brother

April 12, 2007

Greg Gaudino and coach Marv Dunphy recently were asked by a supporter of the Pepperdine men's volleyball program how Gaudino, a 22-year-old graduate student, ended up as the starting middle blocker for the nation's top-ranked team."We didn't exactly know how to answer that," Dunphy said.

Dunphy could have said Gaudino came from La Canada High. Or from the USC men's volleyball program. Even the Trojans' men's basketball team would've been a sufficient response.

In Gaudino's case, they're all true.

While Mike Gaudino took a more conventional path toward earning a volleyball scholarship to play his freshman season at Cal State Northridge, his older brother's journey resembles a movie script, with several plot twists and changes in scenery.

"It's a good story," Dunphy said. "He's the guy who made it happen. He hung in there, and I think it's worked out well for him and for us."

Greg Gaudino's road to volleyball success has been full of forks and dead ends.

But tonight at Firestone Fieldhouse will be one of the more pleasant stops on his final tour, as Greg and Mike, 19, will compete against oneanother when the Waves (23-1) play host to No. 8 CSUN (16-13) at 7 p.m.

"Since we're four years apart, this is the only time we've played against each other," Greg said. "The closest thing was when he was in eighth grade and I was a senior, he'd come in after practice and set for me."Mike saw limited action Jan. 31 in the Matadors' five-game loss to Pepperdine, attempting four serves, while Greg recorded four kills and seven blocks. Tonight, the sons of Tony Gaudino and Jan Canfield will finally have the opportunity to square off at the net.

"At first, I thought I would be redshirting. But now that I'm playing, our family is so competitive that I want to be able to have the last word," said Mike, the 2006 Daily News Player of the Year at La Canada. "Once I realized we would both be getting playing time, then it became an individual battle.

"Yes, he's my brother, but when we play against each other we don't look at it as family. We both want to win more than anything else and obviously there's going to be some trash-talking."

Although Mike's career-high 18kills March 31 against Pacific trumps Greg's 16-kill output Friday at Stanford, those are the only bragging rights the 6-foot-4 outside hitter has over his older brother, who has filled an important need in the Waves' lineup following the graduation of 6-foot-10 Andy Hein.

"It's nice that he got picked up by Marv, especially after what happened at USC," Mike said. "They graduated an All-American in his position and it worked out for him to fill that spot, so I'm happy for him."

After playing for three seasons at La Canada and a semester his freshman year at USC before leaving the team for personal reasons, Greg believed his volleyball career was over. He spent his final three years at USC as a walk-on on the men's basketball team, recording ninepoints, 12rebounds and threeblocked shots in 24 career games.

In order to stay involved in volleyball, Greg spent time in the summer playing on the beach with his family and competed in a co-ed recreational league on weeknights with older sister Kelly, a four-year standout at UCDavis.

It was a rec league match June 21 - the same night Mike graduated from La Canada - that changed Greg's career path for the better.

Needing to secure a middle blocker to replace Hein, Dunphy traveled to a small gym in La Canada Flintridge to watch Greg play co-ed volleyball.

"It was pretty classic," Dunphy said. "I walked into the gym and he wasn't there yet, and I didn't even know if I was in the right place."

Greg's performance impressed Dunphy enough to offer the 6-foot-5 athlete a roster spot. After completing his economics degree from USC, Greg learned from men's basketball coach Tim Floyd that because he didn't play a full season of volleyball as a freshman, he had another year of eligibility to play basketball or volleyball at another school.

Initially, Greg contemplated playing basketball at UC Riverside.

Although he wasn't afforded the opportunity to enter Pepperdine's MBA program, the offer to play for Dunphy was too good to pass up. After being accepted to start his Masters program in public policy, Greg notified Dunphy by cell phone during an August layover in Chicago before his coach departed for exhibition matches in Denmark.

"I thought the MBA program was the specific program for me, and when I didn't get in, I was disappointed because I thought it was so perfect to have the opportunity to play under coach Dunphy, who is a very well-decorated, well-thought-of coach," Greg said. "Then I thought maybe I'll go to Riverside and see what they have to offer, but I really wanted to hear coach Dunphy's final word and see Pepperdine to the very last option because I didn't want to look back and regret the decision.

"There were a lot of swings. But coach Dunphy was really involved from the beginning and it all worked out pretty well."

Greg is one of only two Waves to have appeared in all 91 games, recording 180 kills, 105 blocks, 52digs, 33assists and 14 aces, contributing to Pepperdine's current 20-match winning streak, the second-longest run in program history.

"I don't know what we would've done (without Greg)," Dunphy said. "It seems like he's always been there. He fits right in. He's a wonderful young man. It's easy to coach a guy like Greg Gaudino."

Although Mike admits it's strange watching Greg on film and strategizing against him, he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I just thought after USC he kind of gave it up," said Mike, who has 104 kills, 63 digs, 24 blocks, 18assists and 16 aces in 91 games.

"I never thought he would come back and play at a serious level. But it just shows that everything happens for a reason."

For Greg, it has created memories, like the ones he'll share tonight with his brother, that he'll never forget.

"Since volleyball at USC ended in an abrupt way, I wanted to write the final chapter on my own terms. So, I went back to it, and I've had a successful year at Pepperdine and been able to right the ship," Greg said. "I've sat down a couple of times and thought about it. Things have kind of fallen into place, and there's no way I could've predicted all of this. It really couldn't have turned out any better."

erik.boal@dailynews.com