Vanguard Men’s Volleyball Wins First NAIA National Championship

The Vanguard University men’s volleyball team acted as nomads this winter and spring.

Their former home, lovingly known as “The Pit,” was demolished last year to make way for the new Freed Center for Leadership and Service

The Lions were left without a gym, holding matches at Orange Coast College and Calvary Chapel High School and practices wherever they could. 

“It’s kind of been a question of, ‘Hey coach, where do we practice tomorrow?’” Vanguard senior outside hitter Kyle Anema said. “We never really had an idea of where we would be the next day.”

Vanguard, however, had a keen idea of where it wanted to be at the end of the season.

The Lions accomplished that goal Saturday in remarkable fashion. They rallied for a 20-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-11 “reverse sweep” victory over Benedictine Mesa of Arizona in the NAIA National Championship match in Des Moines, Iowa. 


Vanguard men's volleyball won the NAIA National Championship in just its fourth season.

Vanguard men’s volleyball won the NAIA National Championship in just its fourth season. 

(Courtesy of Douglas Wells)

In just its fourth season, the program won its first national title. It’s also the fourth NAIA team championship for Vanguard overall, joining the 2008 women’s basketball team, 2014 men’s basketball team and 2021 STUNT team. 

Anema, who had a match-high 23 kills in the final, earned NAIA Tournament MVP honors. Junior opposite Will Anderson, a former OCC standout who had 20 kills, was part of the all-tournament team for the Lions (20-5). 

Andrew Sheveland had 10 kills for the champions, and Ryan Jew contributed a team-best 11 digs. Ryan Smith dished out 55 assists, and Valesis Vaisuai was big in the middle with seven blocks.

Local prep players on the winning Vanguard team included junior middle blocker and Corona del Mar High graduate Glen Linden III, as well as Huntington Beach High product Cody Newsome, a junior libero. Linden had a key fifth-set service ace in the title match for the Lions. 

Anema said he was unsure at the start of the season if he was going to come back for his last year of eligibility. He graduated from Vanguard in 2022 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in leadership studies.

Leading this squad, which featured a first-year head coach in former longtime UCLA assistant Brian Rofer, surely could be considered valuable experience.

“All he kept on saying was, ‘April 15, we’re going to be there and we’re going to win,” said Anema, a first-team NAIA All-American along with Anderson. “And we did. I don’t know. I think if you’re next to Brian Rofer you might go buy a lottery ticket, because it seems like he starts to speak things into existence all the time. He just showed the vision, I bought in and I tried to get everyone else to buy in.”


Kyle Anema of Vanguard was named the NAIA Tournament MVP after helping the Lions win the national title.

Kyle Anema of Vanguard was named the NAIA Tournament MVP after helping the Lions win the national title. 

(Courtesy of Douglas Wells)

Rofer, a 1977 Fountain Valley High graduate who won a national championship with UCLA in 1979 as a middle blocker, hadn’t coached in the collegiate ranks since finishing up 22 years as an assistant coach with the Bruins in 2012. But he was hired last November at Vanguard, replacing Eric Vallely, the Newport Harbor High boys’ volleyball head man who remained on staff at Vanguard as an assistant.

Vanguard lost two of three regular-season matches against Benedictine Mesa, and also lost to the Master’s College in the final of the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament. 

The Lions were swept, 25-8, 25-22, 25-23, in the third match against Benedictine Mesa on Feb. 10. 

“They absolutely shellacked us,” Rofer said. “I know for sure that I’ve never lost a set in my life 25-8.”

But the Lions roared back and got revenge in the NAIA Tournament. They also earned a 25-22, 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-13 win over the Master’s in the national semifinal match, despite a match-high 34 kills for National Player of the Year Noah Flexen, a freshman outside hitter for the Master’s.

Anderson had 24 kills in the semifinal win for Vanguard, and Anema added 23 kills. 

“Throughout the course of this year, these guys learned to compete with each other,” Rofer said. “Everyone bought in. I have complete trust in my players, and they developed a trust in me and the process. Everything just worked out.

“I told Kyle and this team my first day working with them that we were going to win the national championship. It was up to them to buy in and just go. That’s what they did. All of this is on my players, and I could not ask for a better group of guys to have gone into this tournament with.”

Vanguard senior setter Smith, as well as junior middle blocker Vaisuai, were both second-team NAIA All-American selections.


Originally posted on LA Times Daily Pilot