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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Pelegrin Vargas, left, is the Mastodons' top returning player after being all-MIVA and receiving All-America honorable mention.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette PFW's Michael Keegan, at Thursday morning's practice.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette PFW's Pelegrin Vargas works on his serve during Thursday morning's practice.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette PFW’s Pelegrin Vargas, right, and Michael Keegan, left, at Thursday morning’s practice.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette PFW's Michael Keegan, left, at Thursday morning's practice.

Friday, January 04, 2019 1:00 am

Mastodons volleyball returns to rankings

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. NJIT

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Gates Sports Center

Listen: portal.stretchinternet.com/purduefortwayne/

The Purdue Fort Wayne men's volleyball team exceeded expectations last season. Coming off a 5-23 season, the Mastodons went 18-11 and showed glimpses of re-emerging as a top program.

“The progression over the past three years to get to this point has been pretty big,” fourth-year head coach Ryan Perrotte said. “I think our guys have matured, bought in to what we have told them and they have loved the process.”

And the process looks to be trending upward for PFW, which is ranked No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll and picked to finish fifth in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association preseason coaches poll. It's the first time in Perrotte's tenure the team has been ranked in the preseason.

The season begins today when PFW plays host to NJIT.

“It's a number; I don't get over-hyped because of it,” Perrotte said. “Obviously being No. 1 come the first weekend in May is the ultimate goal for all Division I and II teams, so that's the big picture, but it's a great compliment from where we've come to where we currently are and where we continue to hope to go.”

The Mastodons return every player that started in at least 24 matches a season ago, including seven seniors and two juniors.

“This year, because of the fact that we're a little more seasoned we were able to move forward quickly,” Perrotte said. “And because we've added some depth to our roster we're able to do more team training as opposed to individual.

“I think it's been a really good advancement for us as team, and I think we've played well because of it in the fall leading up to the regular season.”

Leading that group of returners is junior Pelegrin Vargas, who was named to the preseason All-MIVA team. As a sophomore, he was named first-team All-MIVA and was an AVCA All-America honorable mention. Last season, he finished third in the MIVA kills per set with 3.75.

“I think it's a big responsibility, but I think I'll be able to handle it,” Vargas said. “It's something I wanted and it's a big step, but I think I'm ready for it.”

Vargas said he got complacent last season when the wins started coming. He gained weight during the season and made it his mission to come back healthier and stronger this season. He lost 17 pounds in the offseason.

Perrotte has noticed Vargas' work ethic in the weight room.

“His arm has gotten stronger and faster and he's continuing to work on his vertical jump,” Perrotte said. “And staying strong, so he can maintain all of that for four months.”

PFW is one of four MIVA teams – Lewis (No. 7), Ohio State (8), Loyola-Chicago (9) – ranked in the top 15. In addition to league foes, PFW will face top 15 teamsUC Santa Barbara (10), Cal State Northridge (11) and Stanford (13).

PFW will also play four of the remaining six teams that received votes including Ball State.

Senior Michael Keegan thinks his team's ranking was underwhelming. 

“I'm happy we started the year ranked, but I definitely think people still don't think we're as good as we are,” Keegan said. “I guess we haven't done enough to prove it and that's OK, but I'm hoping this year we can go and show people we're a lot better than they think we are.”

ewyman@jg.net