FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A pair of seniors on the Purdue Fort Wayne men’s volleyball team had their season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will get another opportunity in the 2021 season.
Pelegrin Vargas, a three-time AVCA All-America Honorable Mention, and Richie Diedrich, a two-time All-MIVA selection, were the only seniors on a squad with high expectations. The Mastodons were picked to finish second in the MIVA, but they only got to play about half of the conference schedule.
The NCAA granted a second opportunity for the seniors who had their season shortened, allowing them to return to school and compete for another season.
After months of consideration, both Vargas and Diedrich have decided that they will return for another season with the Purdue Fort Wayne men’s volleyball program.
The duo learned that the season was over on March 11.
“We were caught off guard, obviously,” Diedrich said. “School was coming to an end, and we were mentally getting ready to move on.”
Vargas had been a guest on a “Power League: The Podcast”, a podcast that features Puerto Rican athletes, a few hours after he had been told that the season was over. He told the hosts that his collegiate career was over, since at that moment that was the case.
Once the NCAA announced that senior student-athletes competing in spring sports could return for another year of eligibility, it was left to the individual institutions to work out logistics.
Originally, Vargas was under the impression that the decision may have to wait until July or August. With aspirations to play professional volleyball in Puerto Rico and Europe, this would have been too late to make a decision to return.
After talking with his family, Vargas decided to return to school to further his education and hold off on making the jump to professional volleyball. As Vargas’ family saw it, around the height of the pandemic on a global scale, professional volleyball organizations were more likely to sign players who had proven success at the pro level. Vargas thought he would have a better chance to break into the professional market in a year after economies open back up and more teams can regain some financial stability.
Once Vargas and Mastodon men’s volleyball head coach Ryan “Rock” Perrotte had worked out a plan, the three-time All-MIVA First Team selection had his decision made. He would be back in the fall of 2020. This just left the question marks on Diedrich’s return.
“I didn’t think it would have been a drawn out process,” Diedrich said. “If coach would have told us all at once that the season’s over but you have the chance to come back, I would have said absolutely. But a month goes down the road, and I’m thinking I’ve gotta start moving on, then he comes to me and tells me I have another chance then. So I’m just thinking ‘now what?'”
Diedrich had returned to Orlando, Florida to quarantine with his family, but this did not remove him from the Mastodon men’s volleyball family. His brother, John, is also on the team. He just finished his freshman season playing opposite for the ‘Dons. Jon played a role in Diedrich’s choice to return, reminding him throughout their quarantine together how much volleyball means to the both of them.
“I haven’t lost my love for the game at all,” Diedrich said. “It’s just where my mental state was at, it took me longer to decide to come back.”
Diedrich also attributes part of his decision to ESPN’s docuseries “The Last Dance”, which premiered around the same time he was in the decision-making process.
“As watching that, I was thinking if I do get the opportunity to go back, I’m going to have a different mindset,” Diedrich said. “I’m going to be pushing myself even more than I already was.
“Really, it was a no-brainer to come back, have another year of school, have another year of volleyball,” Diedrich said. “Especially because there are no pro opportunities right now, and from what I saw not many jobs out there that I feel like fit me at the time.”
Vargas loves the idea of having another season with Diedrich on the roster.
“Richie has been awesome to have by my side,” Vargas said. “If we would have had 10 people in our class we might not have been as close. He’s become such a great leader, great student, great athlete, and he’s always thinking about ways to improve. If Richie doesn’t know how to do something you can bet he’s going to find a way to hustle to it. He’s been a great partner to have and I’m so happy that he’s coming back for the unfinished business we have.”
Now that the two of them have completed all necessary steps in order to return, the expectations are back. Under the leadership of Vargas and Diedrich, the Mastodon men’s volleyball team has shown flashes of how good it can be. In 2018, the ‘Dons won their first eight matches of the season, and beat No. 3 UC Irvine and No. 14 Concordia Irvine on the road. In 2019, they beat top-15 Ball State twice in straight sets. And in their most recent campaign, the ‘Dons beat CSUN and a top-15 George Mason team on the road.
The next step for them is putting it all together.
“This past year was a sort of trial and error kind of thing,” Vargas said. “We’ll have to see how we can implement the things we learned this year into next year. This team has the potential to win the MIVA, but we need to make it happen.”
The chances to prove themselves in their final season will come frequently, as five teams in the MIVA will likely be moving in and out of the AVCA Top 15 Coaches Poll. In the full 2019 season, they played 14 matches against top-15 caliber teams. 2020 would have likely been a similar figure. The ‘Dons reached as high as No. 9 this last season.
“There’s a couple little things that if we would have corrected, we would have been a lethal volleyball team,” Diedrich said. “The what if isn’t a what if anymore. Now it’s go time.”
As the two prepare for a fifth season, they are both going to be taking postgraduate course work. Vargas is enrolled in two summer classes in the Organizational Leadership master’s program, getting a jump start in the program. Diedrich will join Vargas in the OL department, starting classes in the fall.