The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 12, 2022 1:00 am

PFW Volleyball Preview

Coach wants consistency from young Mastodons

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Three years ago, PFW men's volleyball coach Ryan Perrotte said his roster had to get more athletic and especially taller to compete in the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. Too often, conference opponents were hitting over the Mastodons' blocks.

Today, the Purdue Fort Wayne lineup is much bigger and includes seven players 6-foot-6 or taller. However, most of them lack major experience because the same lineup essentially started the last two seasons, finishing 6-9 last year in a COVID-shortened slate.

That means there's opportunity for players to grow up and get playing time. Earning it and keeping it are to be determined.

“Hopefully they can get it figured out real quick,” Perrotte said.

Last week, the Mastodons opened the season with a 3-0 win at King and a 3-0 loss to Lincoln Memorial, both in Tennessee. The home schedule starts at 7 p.m. Friday against Maryville followed by a Jan. 20 match with George Mason.

There are three seniors and seven juniors and four returning starters. All-conference pick Vicente Ibarra should be back soon from playing with Chile's national team, meaning senior libero Troy Gooch has more leadership responsibilities.

“This year, some of those guys are stepping into new, bigger roles,” Gooch said. “Some of those younger guys are seeing the difference, and it's making us more hungry. All those guys need to fill those shoes.”

Gooch and Ibarra lead the returning starters, who include middle hitters junior Jon Diedrich and sophomore Brice Walker. Along with junior Rico Wardlow and senior Cody Johnson, Perrotte believes middles are the strength of his team, but they depend on the development of other players to pass serve effectively. If junior setter Sean Califf is running down passes, he can't effectively set the middle.

So far, junior Mitch Geiger, grad student Kade Bontrager, junior Carlos Marcado and freshman Axel Melendez, are getting the playing time at outside hitter. Perrotte said each brings different qualities and developing consistency is urgent.

“There's no reason that we can't all step up, and have six leaders on the court at the same time, with everyone picking each other up,” Walker said.

The other main difference this year is a preconference schedule, which was eliminated last year because of the pandemic. That provides more opportunities to improve and earn playing time.

“One of the things I have done a lot this year is make it a lot about player ownership,” Perrotte said.

Asked who his best player is so far, Perrotte says he doesn't have one.

“We don't have a superstar this year, so it's about balance,” he said. “One person cannot carry the offensive load in this conference. We need balance.”

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