Pepperdine Men’s Volleyball team celebrates after scoring a point in a game in the 2021 season. Pepperdine made the MPSF Finals and the NCAA Tournament, but was knocked out in the first round. Photos courtesy of Pepperdine Athletics
Pepperdine Men’s Volleyball continues to sustain its excellence while building off of the past season.
The Waves are coming into the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation preseason coaches’ poll as well as No. 3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
To balance expectations, graduate outside hitter Spencer Wickens said the team sees where they stand among each other instead of where everyone else expects them to be.
“Compete hard and put all of our effort in and see what comes out of it,” Wickens said. “Just because we have good preseason rankings doesn’t mean that we’re going to be guaranteed a spot in the tournament or even in the final.”
Graduate outside hitter Austin Wilmot said the team is confident they’re a top three team in the country.
“You never know how well you do,” Wilmot said. “You might lose a game here or there, it’s about how you snap back and how you play the game after you lose and turn it around. That defines how the season will play out in the long run.”
Recapping Last Season’s Success
The team had an interesting season this past year.
After a 2-2 start in conference play, the Waves went on a five-game win streak, besting the likes of USC and Stanford. Additionally, the team finished the regular season by sweeping the season series versus Grand Canyon University convincingly.
As the Waves prepared for the post season, Head Coach David Hunt said every match was a learning curve. Now, they’re facing new challenges heading into this season.
“That growth arc that we saw was tremendous,” Hunt said. “I think this year, the challenge is most of our team, for freshmen and sophomores, it’s the first time they’re going through college. Last semester was the first semester they were a full-time college student, so how do we blend that, how do we prioritize time management, how do we prioritize volleyball when we need to prioritize volleyball.”
Training Camp with USA Volleyball
To prepare for this upcoming season, some of the Waves spent their summer in the USA volleyball training camp.
The camp took place in Anaheim, CA., and featured Hunt as the assistant coach of the Men’s Collegiate National Team. Graduate transfer opposite Jaylen Jasper, Wickens and Wilmot attended the camp, hoping to expand their games while learning from the best.
Wickens said he’s always working on his serve. As the outside hitter, he also needs to be creative with his play at the net.
“I’m not the biggest guy so the power shot doesn’t always work,” Wickens said. “So I have to find ways to be a little craftier to hit different shots so I can get the other team guessing.”
The experience with USA volleyball was amazing, Wilmot said, because he had an opportunity to play with some of the players he watched on TV playing in tournaments that summer before.
Additionally, playing all summer long prepared Wilmot for the season, as he witnessed how some of the best volleyball players prepared day-in and day-out and carried that experience back to Malibu.
Hunt said the team’s overall culture explains why so many seniors returned. The players created an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging, regardless of their role, Hunt said.
“That makes me feel a sense of pride as a coach where you’re glad that guys enjoy being here and want to maximize their time,” Hunt said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily ‘Hey I want another crack at [NCAA tournament]’, I think it plays into it. I think it’s more so, we’re around each other 132 days in terms of the practice gym and guys just want to maximize that for as long as possible.”
While preparing for the season, Hunt said one of the biggest takeaways from the offseason was the development in Wilmot’s game.
“As a coach, I don’t know how good these guys can be, in terms of are they close to their growth potential are they just starting out,” Hunt said. “I think Austin is just scratching the surface on what he can do. So that was a big takeaway because we got him around other guys and he’s elevated his game, he’s had a great fall where he’s just getting better and better.”
Waves Display Depth as the Pandemic Persists
The Waves face another challenge this year as the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, Hunt said.
“As a coach, you always have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C,” Hunt said. “You gotta have all of those ready to go at any point in time so it’s just communication, staying on top of it, just have all the details pointed out and then we adjust and it doesn’t rattle us.”
The added depth to the team makes navigating the unpredictable pandemic more feasible, Wilmot said. The talent of the team means there are youth national team members and junior national team members that haven’t seen the court yet.
“David Hunt says, ‘You can’t really control the things out of your control as much as you want to,’” Wilmot said. “Our team has enough players no matter who goes out. As long as we have eight or nine guys that are healthy we can put up a good fight against any team.”
These challenges add more fuel to the fire for the Waves. As the season nears its return, Wickens said that the team’s collective mindset is in a good place.
“We’ve done some pretty cool things in the past,” Wickens said. “We’ve won the MPSF championship, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament a couple of times, but I think we want to keep doing that type of stuff. We want to keep winning those tight matches at the end of the year, and get ourselves to a good spot, compete for a national title.”
The Waves defeated Erskine 3-0 on Jan. 13 and will face them again on Jan. 14 in Firestone Fieldhouse.
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