David Wieczorek stars on West Coast: At the very least, Pepperdine redshirt junior Dave Wieczorek (Loyola Class of 2014) said he wanted to prove he could play volleyball at a high-level program.

He’s exceeded his own expectations after earning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year award. An outside hitter, the 6-foot-8 Wieczorek (pictured above) was first in the conference in aces per set (0.59) and second in kills per set (3.94) this season. He was selected the league’s offensive player of the week four times, the most of any player since 2006.

“It’s a huge honor because this is the toughest conference in the country,” Wieczorek said. “It wasn’t something I was focused on, but I can’t lie that it’s cool to get.”

Pepperdine’s season ended prematurely Saturday with a four-set loss to USC in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The Waves, ranked No. 5 in the nation at the time, finished 15-8. Wieczorek totaled 20 kills, seven digs, one ace and one block in the match.

A Chicago native and graduate of St. Thecla, Wieczorek said he will return to Pepperdine for a fifth year. He’s a sports administration major, but he plans to pursue a professional volleyball career in Europe.

“I can’t see myself doing anything else right now,” he said.

For the second summer in a row, Wieczorek will train with USA Volleyball’s national team. A year ago, he helped the national team finish fifth at the Pan American Cup in Ottawa, Canada. Wieczorek is among a pool of players who will be considered to represent the U.S. at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“One of my biggest goals when I got to Pepperdine was to play, to remove the stigma that someone from Illinois couldn’t compete at a powerhouse in California,” he said. “That was a big motivator for me. I mean, Pepperdine has produced Olympic Gold medalists. It’s the epitome of volleyball. The pieces started to fall together, and I got my chance. It’s been awesome.”

Collin Merk concludes college career: Quincy senior Collin Merk finished his four-year playing career as one of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association’s best liberos. The Hawks’ season ended with a three-set loss to Ohio State on April 14 in the MIVA’s tournament.

Merk played in all 31 games and led Quincy (12-19) with 252 digs and was among the MIVA’s leaders in that category. He had a team-best seven in the loss to the Buckeyes. In four seasons, Merk appeared in 84 matches for the Hawks.

“It was pretty cool to get to play Division I volleyball,” he said. “I got better every year, which is what I wanted to do.”

A marketing major who graduates next month, Merk said he’s thinking about postponing a business career to play professionally in Europe.

“It’s always been a dream of mine, but I know it’s a very hard thing to do,” he said. “If I find the right opportunity, I might have to give it a go.”

Merk is a Chicago native and St. Juliana product. He grew up within walking distance of Dave Wieczorek. As seniors at Loyola, they contributed to a Ramblers team that won a program-record 34 matches.

“Those two were part of a special group,” Loyola head coach Lionel Ebeling said. “They still come back and play with us. They remain connected, and that’s a cool thing to see.”

Photo credit: Martin A. Folb/Pepperdine