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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Waves Try to Rise in Postseason Play

April 19, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — The season started with new faces. Will it end with unhappy ones?

It has been an up-and-down season for the Pepperdine men's volleyball team, which is preparing for the postseason.

The Waves have struggled with inexperience and fought inconsistency, but they have the talent to defeat top teams. They will get a chance Saturday against host Long Beach State in a first-round match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

Pepperdine (14-8), seeded No. 7 in the eight-team tournament, has had problems with No. 2-seeded Long Beach (17-6), losing eight of nine matches to the 49ers since 1994, the Waves' victory coming in four games on Feb. 13.

Pepperdine was swept by the 49ers, 30-28, 30-24, 30-28, on April 6 and, because of a scheduling quirk, hasn't played since then.

The Waves tried to stay in shape by bringing in several alumni for a scrimmage Saturday, including Chip McCaw, Greg Vernovage and Duane Cameron, members of the 1992 team, the last to win a national championship at Pepperdine. Assistant coach Tom Sorensen, another member of that team, also suited up.

"We needed some training time," said Coach Marv Dunphy, who returned to Pepperdine this season after taking a one-year leave of absence to assist the U.S. national team.

"Hopefully we improved in some areas. Either we're good enough or we're not."

On some nights, the Waves are good enough. In addition to Long Beach, they've defeated UCLA, USC and Stanford. They hung tough against top-seeded Brigham Young, losing in five games last month.

Other nights, they faltered, winning with difficulty against last-place UC San Diego and barely breaking a sweat while being swept by USC two weeks ago.

Despite losing three starters from last year's NCAA semifinal team, the Waves were 11-2, but have lost six of nine matches.

Pepperdine might have reached its nadir in a five-game loss at home to UC Irvine on March 17, only the fifth loss for the Waves in 40 matches against the Anteaters.

"That was one we were a little disappointed about," said senior outside hitter Scott Wong, a two-time All-American.

"Obviously from our record, we dropped down and lost some games that we thought we should have won. We lost some of our edge. Guys were a little injured and had the sniffles and stuff like that. We had a little lull."

Long Beach won't be lagging. With added playoff incentive--the 49ers host the NCAA championships next month--Long Beach has finished strongly after a shaky midseason, winning five consecutive matches.

Opposite hitter David McKienzie and middle blocker Matt Prosser, from Buena High, were All-Americans last season and have carried the 49ers. McKienzie has been on a roll and is one of the best hitters in the nation.

Wong, a well-rounded player who can pound the ball, will try to match kills with McKienzie. Wong reached the NCAA semifinals last season and the NCAA championship match as a freshman but came away empty both times. This is his final chance.

"I feel like I've had a successful career," he said. "But it would be an awesome complement to that if we did go far in the playoffs, went to the Final Four and won it. Win five games [starting Saturday] and we're the national champs."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

VOLLEYBALL MATCHUPS

Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's tournament

First Round, Saturday

No. 8 UC Irvine (13-12) at No. 1 Brigham Young (20-3)

No. 5 USC (13-8) at No. 4 Hawaii (17-6)

No. 6 Stanford (14-8) at No. 3 UCLA (20-7)

No. 7 Pepperdine (14-8) at No. 2 Long Beach State (17-6)

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