Being ranked No. 1 in the nation just isn’t that big of a deal for Pepperdine.
Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy said in an interview with Off the Block earlier this week that while his team is happy to be atop the national rankings for the first time in four years it’s more focused on the big picture and being the best team at the end of the season.
The Waves are the only team in the nation without a loss among college men’s volleyball teams that have started their seasons. In addition, Pepperdine rallied from a one-game road deficit to defeat Cal State Northridge in five games on Wednesday to remain undefeated.
Check out this interview with Dunphy from before the team’s match against the Matadors as the Hall of Fame coach discusses several topics ranging from the Waves’ recent success to the development of outside attacker Josh Taylor.
Off the Block: Coach, you’re one of the few remaining undefeated teams left in the nation, but how would you assess the start of your team’s season?
Marv Dunphy, Pepperdine: We have been just good enough to win a couple of good matches. Irvine we got them at home, and we squeaked out a win against SC. I think every coach has standards for his team that they’d like to meet. It’s early in the season, and we are probably at 50-50 on meeting those standards. Winning and losing is one standard, but I’ve been doing this for awhile so I know the standards that we have to meet to be good. We are meeting about half of those. There are a dozen good teams, and we just want to be one of them.
OTB: What’s been one area of focus this week in practice that you’ve emphasized as your team is trying to improve in those half-dozen areas or so that need improvement?
MD: There’s a couple of things. One is we graduated Maurice Torres, who had a lot of our aces, kills and blocks and some good numbers for us [last year]. We didn’t feel like we had an opposite of his caliber so we took a guy from the middle in Parker Kalmbach and put him at opposite. Some times you make those changes and it works out well, and some times they are a work in progress. I think it’s a good work in progress, but it’s a work progress. That’s part of it. We are always giving him swings out of the back row and on the right side. And if you don’t serve and pass well with the big boys you can’t play well. That’s an ongoing area for us that we need to be better at.
OTB: Talking about Kalmbach, you moved him to opposite. What was it about his game that made you feel comfortable in the off-season moving him to opposite?
MD: We had to get someone there because [Matt] Tarantino had labrum surgery, and he was the only opposite we had. [Kalmbach has] got a lot of volleyball in him. I don’t know if he’s a volleyball rat but he’s close to it. He’s thinking about what he needs to do and just seeing the game pretty well and what he needs to do to be better. That’s kind of encouraging to have someone that’s pulling on the leash.
OTB: Staying on the outside, Josh Taylor entered this week leading the nation in kills. How has his development been during the off-season?
MD: Not to backtrack, but he was an opposite in high school club and on youth and junior national teams. But when he came here we made a handshake agreement that he would be an outside hitter. I said it’s going to take a couple of years to pass at this level, and I think it has taken him a couple of years. I think the serving is a little bit ahead of the passing. His serving has gotten a lot better from everyone’s across the board. He’s held his own receiving serves. With outside hitters, it’s all about timing. You need a pattern to drill in with footwork and there’s always a rhythm and timing. I think he’s getting that. Is he perfect: no. But is he trying to be: yeah. I think he’s doing well and I think there’s really some good hope for his future.
OTB: Talking about your team as a whole, for you this nothing new having a team ranked No. 1. However, for a lot of your players this is the first time they’ve been on a team ranked No. 1. Is it a different mind-set for your players being that team on the top or is it something where it’s just keep going out and playing volleyball?
MD: We all know that we are a week or two into a season. … My guess would be half of them wouldn’t even know what the rankings are whether we are No. 1 or No. 5. It’s early and we’re about the process. [The mind-set] doesn’t change too much. Any match you play is just a test of where you are at that time.
OTB: Coach, you are going on your first road trip of the season this week, including playing Long Beach State on Friday. What’s your initial thoughts on the road matches?
MD: We are on the road, and I always enjoy the road. It just seems like there is a little more of a challenge and little bit more of a need to achieve. I think we are excited to play the matches. We know the personnel, we know the coaches and it’s two good teams.