If Pepperdine hopes to win the NCAA men’s volleyball championship today, the Waves must accomplish something that’s happened only once this year.
The Waves play Penn State at UC Irvine’s Bren Center to decide the title, and the Nittany Lions came into the final four with a 28-1 season record.
Their lone loss was on March 7, when Penn State lost to George Mason in Fairfax, Va. In the nearly two months since, Penn State is unbeaten and it entered the finals as the top-seeded team.
The single defeat “gave us that hunger to not want to lose ever again,” said Penn State senior Luke Murray. “It lit a fire under us again.”
But Pepperdine has momentum, too. Despite a less impressive 16-10 record, the Malibu school had to beat UCLA, Long Beach State and Brigham Young to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament to get into the final four.
Then the Waves knocked off Long Beach State again with a three-game sweep Thursday night to reach today’s nationally televised final at 4 p.m. Penn State qualified by defeating Ohio State three games to one.
“They are going to be a handful,” Pepperdine Coach Marv Dunphy said Friday. “We don’t know Penn State that well. We have a long day and a long night ahead of us to get ready for them.”
History also is on Pepperdine’s side. The team is 16-3 all-time against Penn State and, when they last met in 2001, the Waves swept the Nittany Lions in Malibu.
Pepperdine has a balanced offensive attack, led by Paul Carroll, J.D. Schleppenbach and Cory Riecks. All scored kills in the double digits Thursday night against Long Beach State.
Penn State, meanwhile, used a stout defense to secure its win against Ohio State with a season-high 18.5 team blocks, nine in the third game alone.
This is the second time in three years that Penn State has reached the final game; it lost to UCLA in 2006. The school’s only men’s volleyball title came in 1994 when it defeated the Bruins.
Pepperdine has five men’s volleyball championships, the most recent coming in 2005 when the Waves also defeated UCLA.