Pepperdine celebrates scoring a point in the Saturday, March 13 Men’s Volleyball game versus UCLA in Firestone Fieldhouse. The Waves defeated the Bruins and maintained their undefeated 4-0 record in the ‘Stone.
Photos by Dane Bruhahn
Pepperdine’s No. 4 Men’s Volleyball team claimed victory over the No. 8 UCLA Bruins in a four-set match (24-26, 25-21, 25-23, 25-22) March 13, in Malibu, giving the Bruins a taste of their own medicine.
The Waves faced a tough battle against the Bruins in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 11, losing the match in five sets (23-25, 25-12, 22-25, 25-14, 15-10). With their Saturday night win, the Waves hold an 8-3 record overall and in conference and maintained a perfect 4-0 record in Firestone Fieldhouse.
“We knew we had to come out here and play a lot harder; it was pretty back and forth [at UCLA], except the sets were kind of lopsided, but tonight was much closer and a much better game all around,” redshirt senior middle blocker Austin Wilmot said. “I think we really showed that we made the improvements that we needed to.”
The Waves started the match slow, handing points to the Bruins with defensive and service errors. The Bruins expanded their lead to 10-8 before the Waves called a timeout to readjust.
The front row defense led the Waves from the get-go, with big blocks from Wilmot and freshman middle blocker Andersen Fuller.
“I think we had a really good game plan going in, we knew some of their hitters, like some of their tendencies, so I think just listening to my coaches and, before every play, reaffirming the people next to me and making sure we’re on the same page really helped,” Wilmot said.
Senior outside hitter Spencer Wickens came out of the gate swinging, looking to connect with anything set his way and working off the Bruin block. Wickens led the team in kills for the night with 13, 11 of which came in the last two sets.
Smart, scrappy plays, as well as Bruin hitting errors, got the Waves back in the set. Pepperdine rallied, sticking with the ball — even sprinting off the court toward the opposing bench at one point — but the Bruins finished the first set off a Waves defense error, 26-24.
“We were down big in set one and then I thought it was key that we battled back and made it close, and had a few chances at the end,” Head Coach David Hunt said. “I thought halfway through that first set was when we sort of found a groove and got into it.”
Going into the second set, the Waves started off with a great — albeit somewhat awkward — rally, ending with a toss-over by Wickens from the back row and earning Pepperdine the point.
Pepperdine’s offense picked up, with some killer swings from redshirt sophomore opposite Jacob Steele. Redshirt freshman opposite Akin Akinwumi got a piece of the action, slamming four kills and hitting a perfect 1.000 for the set.
The Waves stayed ahead throughout the second set, due to the team’s defense and seven service errors by the Bruins. The front row shut down offensive attacks by UCLA with notable blocks from Fuller, redshirt senior outside hitter Noah Dyer and Wilmot.
“The great thing was that we played together, we stayed on our side, played for each other,” Wickens said.
The tempo changed during the third set, with the Waves connecting with the ball intentionally and putting points away. The team found its rhythm with great assists by Wickens and freshman setter Bryce Dvorak, who ended the night with 32 assists.
The Bruins kept the score tight, but the Waves used their familiarity to stay one step ahead, hitting around or directly into the block, forcing UCLA to make errors. Wilmot was all over the court, running fast plays out of the middle on offense and defense and slamming home the final kill of the set.
Set four remained a constant battle, but the Waves didn’t falter, staying aggressive at the net and scrappy in the back row. Wickens racked up the most digs of the night, ending with seven, and freshman libero Trey Cole and junior outside hitter Ben Weinberg kept the team in the game with critical serve receive and stellar passes.
“You gotta stay confident when you’re playing a good team,” Wickens said. “They can get really hot really fast with a lot of great players, so you got to have the mentality of ‘you’re a good player too,’ playing against them, that you compete with the best.”
Wilmot earned the team’s golden wrestling belt for his performance during the match, collecting 12 kills and 9 blocks. The belt is an incentive by coaching staff and a congratulations for a job well done, Wilmot said. Wilmot also earned accolades from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation for Defensive Player of the Week, his second of the season, and the American Volleyball Coach’s Association’s National Player of the Week.
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