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Pepperdine's Schleppenbach proves ready for starting role

J.D. Schleppenbach (Ventura) didn't expect it to come easy.

The Pepperdine sophomore knew earning playing time at outside hitter would require some work.

Four times a week, hours a day last summer, Schleppenbach put his body through a steady diet of weight training.

Squats, cleans, presses, rows -- anything to increase his size and his chances.

"I am a skinny kid," Schleppenbach said. "I had to get bigger and stronger if I wanted to get my shot."

After teammate John Parfitt was sidelined with an injury eight games into the season, Schleppenbach didn't let his opportunity go to waste.

He stepped into the starting outside hitter spot and never left. The 6-foot-3, 178-pounder is averaging 2.69 kills and 3.24 points per game for top-ranked Pepperdine.

"I couldn't ask for much more right now," Schleppenbach said. "It is kind of surreal."

The Waves (25-1, 21-1) clinched the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title two weeks ago, and received a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

They host a semifinal match on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Firestone Fieldhouse.

"You can sit back and say this is awesome we have gone so far, but we are not done yet," Schleppenbach said. "Guys are still going just as hard in practice as they did the first day."

Schleppenbach was recruited to play outside hitter at Pepperdine, but started at libero last season while recovering from a knee injury suffered in high school.

"I didn't have time to prepare last year, and I would not have been ready anyway," Schleppenbach said. "Even if you are a pretty good player in high school, the jump to college is huge. It's a much higher level."

Schleppenbach had a chance to rekindle some prep memories a few weeks ago when he faced Eric Vance (Camarillo) and Cal State Northridge.

Schleppenbach finished with 17 kills and nine digs to lead the Pepperdine sweep while Vance had eight kills.

"We have a little history, which is cool," Schleppenbach said. "He is also one of the guys I played beach with at San Pedro during the summer.

"After the match, he came up to me and said, "Man. You showed up to play today."

Although Pepperdine is the first team to win more than 20 conference games in a single season, Schleppenbach realizes it's not enough.

At Pepperdine, success is measured by a different standard -- NCAA titles.

"That is what Pepperdine volleyball is all about," Schleppenbach said.

"We want to win it, and make it certain we deserve to be there and be on top."