MALIBU — George Roumain is like a rubber ball that keeps bouncing back.
Pepperdine's sensational freshman outside hitter has rebounded from two serious injuries to become one of the volleyball team's leaders and best hitters.
"People ask me all the time, what percentage is George playing at?" Pepperdine Coach Marv Dunphy said. "Well, I don't know because he hasn't been 100% since he's been here. He's only had about 20 days of practice since he's been at Pepperdine and he's doing it as well as he's capable, considering the circumstances."
Just as Roumain was recovering from a groin pull that kept him from training most of the fall and slowed him at the start of the season, he suffered a severely fractured bone in his left wrist.
The injury occurred when Roumain slammed into a sideline chair as he dove for a ball during a Jan. 25 match against UC Santa Barbara.
When he got up, Roumain felt agonizing pain in the wrist and tests later revealed a crack in the bone. He watched the Waves' next four matches from the bench.
"It was extremely frustrating," Roumain said. "I told Marv, 'I have to find a way to play! I can't do this!' "
Roumain had no doubt about his physical ability to keep his job as a starter, but mentally the hiatus took a toll.
"I thought everybody was going to think I was a flake, that Marv recruited me and I wasn't going to pan out," Roumain said. "It was really hard on my confidence."
Roumain was considered one of the nation's top high school players as a senior at Santa Ynez High.
He felt pressure to live up to expectations and despite the injuries he has.
Roumain, 19, looks as though he hasn't missed a beat. Since doctors cleared him to compete Feb. 20, he has played wearing a cast that extends nearly to his elbow.
"It's really tough to pass," Roumain said. "Here I have one arm that's flesh and the other one has this cast on it."
The cast won't come off for another couple of weeks, perhaps by playoff time. Pepperdine (12-6, 7-5 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play and ranked eighth nationally) has won six of its last seven matches and is expected to earn a postseason berth.
Roumain, who is among a select few true freshman starters in the powerful MPSF, ranks among the Waves' top hitters with an average of 4.62 kills a game.
He had 49 kills in Pepperdine's recent victory over UC Irvine and is the only freshman to get significant playing time at the school since setter Chip McCaw, a two-time All-American and U.S. National Team member, in 1992.
Coaches in the league are preparing for Roumain to be a major force in the years to come.
"Just wait till he recovers completely and gets consistent," Cal State Northridge Coach John Price said. "It's going to be real scary!"
Roumain, 6 feet 6, 230 pounds, is an imposing figure. He looks more like a football player than a volleyball player.
His calves are massive and his swing is incredibly powerful, even compared to some of the nation's top players.
It seems as though everyone has taken note of Roumain's aggressive style of play and spectacular hitting.
Fans love when he jumps up and winds for a swing and opposing coaches cringe at the sight.
When Pepperdine hosted USC last week, a referee told the statistician during a timeout: "Do you notice when George says, 'I go!' everybody moves out of the way? They just clear the path. I've never seen anything like it."
Roumain commands considerable respect for a freshman. When No. 2 UCLA beat Pepperdine in Malibu earlier this season, longtime Bruin Coach Al Scates, whose teams have won 15 national championships, said the key was containing Roumain.
But it's not easy to prevent Roumain from doing what he does best: smashing the ball. He still had 11 kills and two blocks against UCLA, proving that even the top teams can't completely stop him.
Roumain was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Parkland, Fla., where his father, an engineer, started a business. He played two years of high school volleyball in Florida before moving to Santa Barbara for his senior season.
"There wasn't much opportunity or exposure in Florida and I didn't think I'd get recruited," Roumain said. "The level of high school volleyball isn't as great there as it is here."
Roumain picked Santa Barbara because he had spent two summers there training with the U.S. Junior Olympic team.
"I really miss home and I miss my parents, but I talk to them every day," Roumain said.
There's a great deal of pressure that comes with starting in the league as a freshman, Roumain says, but steady improvement in has helped alleviate some of it.
In his short time at Pepperdine, he has learned immensely from Dunphy, a former U.S. Olympic coach who has led the Waves to three NCAA titles.
"I used to just hit the ball as hard as I could," Roumain said. "Now I've learned a lot of the game's skills. I have a long way to go, so I'm just going to keep improving."
No wonder coaches in the MPSF fear what Roumain might accomplish in the future. Certainly injuries haven't stopped him.