For three years, Pelegrin Vargas has been building for this season, and he had the perfect offseason to make sure he's ready.
The Purdue Fort Wayne men's volleyball senior is a two-time first-team all-Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association selection, and a potential All-America pick this season. He's the player every opponent is focusing on as the Mastodons try to build off last year's 17-12 mark.
And he's ready for that kind of attention, on and off the court.
“I love it,” Vargas said. “My goal every year when I go home is just to get better, put another step up and never go down. It's just a feeling accomplishment. It's just building up from here.”
Vargas and teammate Tomas Gago missed the opening of the PFW season as they participated in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Canada as the Mastodons opened with wins over Queen's and Belmont Abbey. After losing twice last weekend at Quincy and Lindenwood, the Mastodons are 6-4, 1-2 in the MIVA. Seven of those matches have been played on the road with six in a row at home starting today against Ball State.
“What keeps me motivated is that I still want to improve,” Vargas said. “I still haven't accomplish my goals. We didn't make it to the conference finals, we didn't beat Lewis and Loyola (last season). You want to leave a legacy here, then you have to take the team somewhere. That's what it's all about this year, and I think we have the team for it.”
So far, he leads the nation with almost five kills per game and in points per game. He's third nationally in attacks per game and ranks 16th in hitting percentage, unheard of for an outside hitter who often faces double and triple blocks. With those kind of numbers, he's a Player of the Year candidate.
Vargas' preparation last summer included playing 24 matches with the Puerto Rican men's national team in five international tournaments. He was even named team captain for four of the tournaments, which included the younger players because the normal national team members were playing in the Puerto Rican Pro League.
“He's come back like he has shed skin because he's a new player,” PFW coach Ryan Perrotte said. “In my estimation, he's going to be an All-American this season. His volleyball IQ has increased, his offensive game and the array within it has increased. He's much more tenacious when it comes to his blocking and backcourt defense. He has matured, and now he has to take that and lead the guys. That's the intangible that he can do because players respect him.”
Always known as an offensive threat, Vargas needed to tune up his blocking and back-row defense to a higher level. He also needed to work on his hitting because he was known strictly for his power game, meaning defenders always knew what to expect. Playing on the international level, Vargas had to work on shot making and versatility.
“For me, this summer was great,” he said. “I grew a lot and learned a lot. It made me realize that I might be one of the best here, but there are a lot more good guys out there, and that just made me hungrier. It was a reality check.
“Who do I think I am if I'm not listening to those guys because some of them have been playing longer than I've been alive?”