A week ago, Pepperdine had the top-ranked men’s volleyball team in the nation and was the favorite to win its first national title in 11 years.
Two losses later, all the Waves can do is to ponder what went wrong.
Lewis, a Division II college making only its third appearance in the NCAA championships, matched Pepperdine point for point for most of their semifinal match at Long Beach State Thursday night and outlasted the Waves in five tense games, 30-27, 29-31, 30-27, 25-30, 15-13.
The victory, which took 2 hours 45 minutes, advances the Flyers (28-5) into Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. title game against Brigham Young, a 36-34, 30-25, 28-30, 30-26 winner over Penn State.
Pepperdine, which lost the top seeding in this tournament when it was upset by BYU in last week’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title game, finished 24-6.
Lewis’ victory had an international flavor. The one-two outside punch of Fabiano Baretto of Brazil (31 kills) and Gustavo Meyer of Mexico (24 kills) came up with big kills consistently, and Brazilian setter Jose Martins ran the offensive effectively, finishing with 69 assists, 16 digs, three block assists and five kills, all dumps.
His final dump was his biggest of all.
Although Pepperdine couldn’t score more than a couple of points at a time, the Waves had built what appeared to be a safe 12-9 cushion in the fifth and final game that was being played to 15 points, half of the normal total of 30.
But two unforced errors by the Waves helped the Flyers get back into the game.
A block by Pepperdine’s Andy Hein and Sean Rooney made the score 13-11, but then Martins dumped a pass for a point over the top of three Pepperdine blockers, rather than set the ball to an outside hitter.
The play appeared to stun the Waves and it certainly fired up the Flyers.
Pepperdine Coach Marv Dunphy used his final timeout, and when play resumed Meyer and teammate Kevin Miller blocked Rooney to tie the score, 13-13. Meyer then added a solo block on Rooney for a one-point advantage and then Meyer spiked off Rooney’s block attempt out of bounds for the game-winner.
“The block didn’t follow me,” Martins said of his key play. “I thought that it was a good play, so I do it.”
Teammates said they had their hearts in their throats when they saw what Martins was up to, but they burst into celebration when the ball hit the floor.
Pepperdine couldn’t get untracked and much of its problems appeared to be that they didn’t seem ready to go in the first couple of games.
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start,” Dunphy said. “I think we shot ourselves in the foot. They made big plays when they had to.
“They were making some cut serves and we didn’t pass them well enough to run our offense in the beginning.”
Fred Winters finished with 28 kills for Pepperdine and Rooney finished with 21, but as a team Pepperdine hit only .247 to Lewis’ .318.
Standout middle blocker Brad Keenan, who entered the match hitting .433, had only nine kills and hit only .250.
“In the first two games, I wasn’t hitting the ball well and I wasn’t getting the sets I wanted,” said Winters, who hit .061 with nine kills in 33 attempts in the first two games. “But then it seems like I got two or three kills in a row, and then I started to pick it up from there.”