2017 Men's Volleyball Outlook
The Waves ranked No. 5 in the AVCA and MPSF preseason polls earlier this month.
MALIBU, Calif. – As the AVCA and MPSF released preseason polls earlier this month, the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team is looking at a No. 5 ranking in both to open the 2017 campaign come January.
After finishing the 2016 season with a 13-11 record and ranking 7th in the nation, the Waves picked up 221 votes in the AVCA preseason coaches poll to rank No. 5 overall.
In the 2016 season, the Waves went 13-11 overall and 12-10 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, tabbing a 7-5 record at home and an even 6-6 output in away venues. The squad went 8-10 against nationally ranked opponents, highlighting the season with road wins over top-ranked BYU in four sets and 3rd-ranked Stanford in a reverse sweep towards the end of the season.
Pepperdine will begin the season on Jan. 4 with a match-up in Malibu against McKendree of Lebanon, Ill., before hosting Canada’s McMaster on Jan. 5 and 6.
“McMaster is ranked No. 2 in the Canadian CIS league currently,” said Dunphy. “They are undefeated and one of the best, if not the best, teams from Canada.
“The schedule just worked out to get those matches in…we had to schedule McKendree, McMaster, McMaster three days in a row which we have never done before. Those will be good competitions, and I like our schedule."
The team will then hit the road and head to challenge No. 11 Loyola in Chicago and No. 6 Lewis in Romeoville.
“Lewis and Loyola are two of the best teams in the country,” Dunphy said. “It doesn’t do any good to play against any inferior competition. You learn more when you play against really good teams. You learn about them, but you also learn about yourself.
"I'm all about standards. There is a standard to be met, and we'll see how we match up against the standards of good opponents."
MPSF play opens on Jan. 20 with No. 9 Stanford at home, before continuing with Cal Baptist and USC, teams receiving votes in the preseason poll. After 18 total conference matches, including nine home competitions, the MPSF tournament will kick off on April 15.
Marv Dunphy will return as the Waves’ head coach, beginning his 34th year on the sidelines. He has amassed a 602-265 overall record to this date. David Hunt will return for his 8th season under Dunphy, while Pepperdine alum Sean Rooney will enter his second year as an assistant for the team.
“I feel fortunate to work with such good people in Sean and David,” Dunphy said. "They stay current with the standards necessary to be good at this level, and I feel pretty comfortable in what they do to help us with that. They are both rock solid, and nobody at this university works harder or better than David Hunt. He puts in 18-hour days, and the quality is second-to-none."
The Waves return 17 members from the previous squad and lost only two key starters.
“The first thing I think of when I think of our team is we are not going to be as big as we have been historically,” Dunphy said. "We graduated two guys that are 6-9 and also last year I think we were pretty dependent on Tarantino to get lots of kills, aces, and blocks…we threw him lots of sets. In theory, we are going to have to be more balanced offensively, and I think we have some depth to help with that."
Of the returners four plus the libero are returners starters, some of which include redshirt-sophomore David Wieczorek (Chicago, Ill./Loyola Academy). Six-foot-eight, Wieczorek, earned a spot on the All-MPSF second team and All-Freshman teams last season, while also garnering OffTheBlock/Springbak, Inc. Fan Choice National Player of the Year in 2016.
“Wieczorek had a good freshman year and is another one of the outside hitters that will help us in that position," Dunphy said.
Also returning is six-foot-seven senior middle blocker Mitchell Penning (St. Louis, Mo./Westminster Christian Academy). Penning has been a two-year starter in the middle for the Waves and has been strong in the classroom as well, picking up MPSF All-Academic honors in 2016. Another returner from the outside is six-foot-four junior outside hitter Colby Harriman (Rochester, N.Y./McQuaid Jesuit HS).
The team will welcome six newcomers including three freshmen and two transfers, and one new-but-old face as senior Kyle Suppes (Union City/Calif./Bellarmine College Preparatory) rejoins the squad. Suppes was a member of the Waves’ team from 2013-15 seasons.
“Suppes is back, and we are counting on him to help us in the middle," said Dunphy.
Junior transfers Alex Harthaller (Innsbruck, Austria/Akademischeg Gymnasium/IPFW) and Owen Yoshimoto (Ventura, Calif./Adolfo Camarillo HS/Santa Barbara CC), a redshirt junior, joined the team this fall. Six-foot-six Harthaller will compete for an outside hitter position, while six-foot-two Yoshimoto is looking to make an impact in the back row.
“Owen is a good volleyball player,” Dunphy said. "What I would determine a volleyball rat. He plays all the time, and he sees the game well and plays it well.
“Alex will be one of our outside hitters. He brings maturity on and off the court and from what I can tell, he’s never had a bad day in his life. A really upbeat guy.”
The three freshmen include Noah Dyer (San Clemente, Calif./Saddleback Valley Christian HS), Robert Mullahey (Manhattan Beach, Calif./Mira Costa HS) and Sam Bradley (Honolulu, Hawai’i/Punahou School). Dyer played for the U.S. Youth National Team in 2015 and was named a Junior Open All-American in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Competing for the lead title as playmaker for Pepperdine will be returning seniors Joshua Stewart (San Jose, Calif./Bellarmine College Preparatory/Pacific) and Soren Dion-Kindem (Agoura, Calif./Agoura HS) and freshman Robert Mullahey.
"Soren and Josh are back and will be competing for playing time, and we are lucky to have both," Dunphy said.
Last season, Stewart was the primary starter for most of the Waves competition, earning 18 starts in 20 total matches played. He led the team with 688 total assists, averaging 10.12 assists/set and picked up 1.16 digs/set (79) and 0.44 blocks/set (30). Dion-Kindem collected six starts in 11 matches played. He posted 8.61 assists/set after putting up 310 assists for the team and added 1.53 digs/set (55) and 0.81 blocks/set (29).
Nine Waves will go head-to-head for a spot on the outside, including seniors James Gehrels (Tucson, Ariz./Salpoint Catholic HS), Max States (Honolulu, Hawai’i/Solimar Academy), juniors Colby Harriman, Alex Harthaller, redshirt-sophomore David Wiezcorek, sophomores, Michael Wexter (New Lenox, Ill./Lincoln-Way West HS), Kaleb Denmark (Redlands, Calif./Arrowhead Christian Academy) and Augie Miller (Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar HS), and freshman Noah Dyer.
“Sometimes you get labeled by being an outside hitter or an opposite, and they are interchangeable," said Dunphy. “In other words, Harthaller, Wieczorek, Harriman could all play opposite or outside.”
Wieczorek comes back with the All-MPSF second team and All-Freshman team nod and is also the top-hitting returner. He tabbed 2.94 kills/set after amassing 259 kills with only 72 errors on 544 swings for a .344 success rate. The Illinois native led the team with 31 aces, averaging 0.35 aces/set, and also picked up 1.06 digs/set and 0.65 blocks/set.
Harriman ranks third for returners with 2.61 kills/set last season, after totaling 219 kills on 532 swings. He also picked up 0.14 aces/set, 0.80 digs/set and 0.68 blocks/set. Gehrels also saw time on the court for Pepperdine, averaging 1.96 kills/set on a .234 hitting percentage and adding 0.88 digs/set and 0.52 blocks/set. States came in primarily to serve, posting six aces throughout 74 sets played. Wexter and Denmark also saw time last season. Dyer is tabbed as an outside, opposite and setter on the roster.
Seven Waves will go up for a spot in the middle this season, including senior Mitchell Penning and redshirt senior Kyle Suppes, juniors Clay Carr (Costa Mesa, Calif./Newport Harbor HS), sophomore Max Chamberlain (Burbank, Calif./John Burroughs HS), redshirt sophomore Daniel Vaziri (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame HS), redshirt freshman Jack Cole (Lafayette, Calif./Campolindo HS) and freshman Sam Bradley.
Penning returns to the middle after having posted 0.95 blocks/set (82) and 1.53 kills/set 132-39-259) on a .394 hitting percentage. He also ranked third on the squad with 0.20 aces/set and 17 total aces collected. Carr played 25 sets as a middle blocker for the Waves, posting 1.08 kills/set (27-7-52) on a .385 success rate and 1.04 blocks/set (26). Chamberlain also saw four sets of action throughout the season.
"Mitch is the most experienced of the middles, and we will see who else develops the fastest for the other position," Dunphy said. “A lot of the positions will be by committee.”
The Waves have four competing for libero and defensive specialist positions, including senior Chad McCallister (Huntington Beach, Calif./Marina HS), redshirt juniors Weston Barnes (Laguna Beach, Calif./Laguna Beach HS/George Mason) and Owen Yoshimoto and sophomore Nolan Sharp (El Segundo, Calif./El Segundo HS)
“Weston, Owen, Nolan and Chad will all be in the mix,” said Dunphy. “We have some depth, and that is a luxury. Very seldom do we have such depth on a team.”
Barnes anchored the back row last season, with 88 sets played out of the Waves 91 total sets of action. He led the team with 2.02 digs/set after posting 178 digs and produced 0.62 assists and 55 total assists to help the effort. Sharp played in 31 sets, tallying 0.32 digs/set and 0.16 assists/set.
For information on the 2017 Pepperdine men’s volleyball team, go to PepperdineWaves.com and follow @PeppVolleyball on Facebook and Twitter.