When asked about the fact UCLA was 25-0 all-time in NCAA tournament play at Pauley Pavilion, Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy, who also tries to avoid comparing former teams and players to each other, put things into perspective.
“I’m not really one to look back and make some voodoo out of it,” he said. “It’s not where you are, it’s who you are.”
But Dunphy did let the past slip into the 2005 NCAA national championship match when the marbles were on the line in game five against that very UCLA team with the 25-0 tournament record in the house John (Wooden) and Al (Scates) made famous.
“I usually don’t do this, but I told them we had to feel good about game five,” said Dunphy, whose team was 6-0 up to that point in matches that went the distance. “The guys knew our record in games that went five.”
The Waves went on to make it 7-0 in five-gamers after bombarding UCLA in the rubber game to win the 2005 NCAA National Men’s Collegiate Volleyball Championship by a 3-2 count in a match that took 152 minutes to complete and was witnessed by a vociferous crowd of 6,853 in Pauley.
Pepperdine (25-2), which trailed 2-1 heading into game four, won its fifth NCAA men’s title and first since 1992. The Waves were making their third championship match appearance in the last eight years and first since 2002. Pepperdine’s five titles are the second-most in NCAA history.
UCLA (26-6) was looking for its record 19th national title under the legendary Scates. The Bruins, the third seed in the event, were making their record 24th title match appearance and first since 2001.
“To go out and win a championship in Pauley Pavilion is something I can’t describe,” said Pepperdine standout Sean Rooney, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. “Playing in front of a crowd this big, it couldn’t be more perfect.”
“We played a good team with a good history. It was an exciting match,” said Dunphy. “This is well-earned and well-deserved.”
Pepperdine left no doubt in game five, powering out to an 8-1 lead. UCLA hit negative .100 in the finale, committing eight hitting errors. The Bruins could get no closer than three points as the Waves capped off a 30-23, 23-30, 24-30, 30-25, 15-10 victory.
“In game five we fought back, but in rally point it’s too overwhelming to be behind seven points,” said Scates. “It’s nearly impossible to come back. Supposedly we weren’t good enough to be here. I’m proud of our team. If you lose in the NCAA finals, they are all tough. It doesn’t matter where you are playing, it’s tough.”
Rooney, who ended the match by finding an opening in the middle block off a Jonathan Winder set, led Pepperdine with 26 kills (hitting .321) and finished with 45 kills in the two matches and ended with 2,007 for his career. John Parfitt added 18 kills (.350), while Tom Hulse had six blocks. Winder, a freshman setter, had 52 assists and directed the team to a .315 hitting percentage.
UCLA, which overcame myriad injuries throughout the season, was paced by senior Jonathan Acosta’s 29 kills on 44 swings (hitting .523). Senior Kris Kraushaar added 16 kills, while senior Paul Johnson had 11 kills, four aces, and three blocks.
“This was a great atmosphere,” said Kraushaar. “I love playing in front of a great crowd. It would have been nice to come away with a win, but this was fun.”
UCLA, making its record 24th NCAA appearance, quickly put all of the talk about the merits of its selection to the tournament to rest with this impressive dismantling of No. 2 seed Penn State.
“It was a great all-around performance by the Bruins,” said Scates.
UCLA hit .353 as a team and held up a 102-84 swings advantage over Penn State. The Bruins also had eight service aces and 9.5 team blocks to complete a dominating performance.
The Bruins were paced by senior opposite hitter Brennan Prahler, a late starting-lineup addition. Prahler, a former soccer player from Hawaii who played in only 28 of the team’s 112 games prior to the Penn State match, had a match-high 17 kills.
“I was ready to go,” said Prahler. “We really haven’t had a set lineup this year. You just have to be ready and I was.”
Acosta added 16 kills and hit at a .500 clip. Senior opposite hitter Allan Vince, playing on a sprained ankle, had eight kills and four aces.
“There’s not enough to say about a guy like Allan who plays with a sprained ankle,” said Acosta. “He stepped up big.”
Penn State, which lost for the seventh straight year in the national semifinals, was paced by 11 kills each from sophomore outside hitter Alex Gutor and junior outside hitter Matt Proper. The Nittany Lions finished the season 30-4 and had a 14-match winning streak snapped (their last lost was also to UCLA on March 8).
“This was far from as well as we can play,” said Penn State coach Mark Pavlik.
“UCLA flat outplayed us,” said Penn State middle blocker Keith Kowal. “They stepped up and beat us and that’s what it all comes down to.”
Top-seeded Pepperdine used a commanding game one performance en route to defeating fourth-seeded Ohio State in the second national semifinal.
The Waves hit .409 in the first game and prospered from Ohio State’s .028 game one hitting percentage (12 hitting errors) and six service errors resulting in 18 Pepperdine points. Pepperdine scored a total of 37 points alone off Ohio State hitting or serving errors throughout the match.
Rooney, the consensus national player of the year, led Pepperdine with 19 kills. Parfitt added 11 kills and the Waves made just eight hitting errors on 101 swings. Pepperdine also held a 10.5-3.0 blocks advantage over the Buckeyes.
“The thing Sean Rooney does well and that whole team does well is they don’t make errors,” said Ohio State senior 6’10” middle blocker Scott Spurlock.
“You get right down to the total box score. They made eight spike errors and we made 25. That’s a significant difference,” said Ohio State coach Pete Hanson. “But I like the way our guys competed in games two and three. Once we settled down, we proved we deserved to be here too.”
Junior outside hitter Mark Greaves (14 kills) Andy Cole (12 kills) led Ohio State (24-8), which was in the national semifinals for a 14th time and first since 2001.
Pepperdine 6’10” senior Sean Rooney has reached his final destination in collegiate volleyball. This consensus national player of the year has helped his team win the 2005 NCAA championship and on top of that was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
While reaching the destination is impressive for the outside hitter who can do it all, what is truly impressive is the journey Rooney took to get where he is.
“I am happy for him to have earned his degree, evolved into a great player, and had a good career,” said Pepperdine head coach Marv Dunphy.
Rooney’s journey to claiming his championship ring is four years in the making.
After arriving at Pepperdine as a freshman, he helped lead the Waves to a second place finish in the 2002 NCAA tournament (losing to a Hawaii team that later vacated the title).
Then as a sophomore in 2003, he once again got his team to the NCAA tournament, but this time the season was cut short by Lewis University (who later vacated the 2003 title) in the semifinals. As a junior, the Waves missed the 2004 NCAA tournament after losing to BYU in the MPSF tournament.
The journey almost ended too soon for Rooney as he sat out the fall 2004 practice season to recover from what could have been career-ending knee surgery.
“It was a little bleak last fall and I didn’t know if he would come back,” remembered Dunphy. “To his credit, he rehabilitated a lot and did a great job coming back.”
So much so that he was again among the national leaders in kills and ended his career with a streak of 52-straight double-digit kill matches.
“He is an extremely talented athlete and skilled player in one of the most important positions on the court,” said Ohio State coach Pete Hanson. “I have nightmares about guys like him and how you can stop him, which you can’t. You just try to play around him.”
Rooney’s collegiate journey may be over, but his career in volleyball is not. His next phase of his journey is with the U.S. National Team.
“He is certainly the best player I have seen recently,” said UCLA head coach Al Scates. “I am glad to see him graduating ad moving on the national team. They need him.”
Originally published in July 2005