Waves Beach Volleyball to Compete in First-Ever NCAA Championship

Scenic Zuma Beach is home sweet home for the Pepperdine women’s beach volleyball team. However, some of the squad is just as accustomed to volleying and spiking the ball on a swath of Alabama coastline, hundreds of miles away from Malibu sand. 

It’s a good thing, too. The Waves are closing out their season this weekend by competing for a national championship at Gulf Shores Public Beach in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Before a recent practice, Pepperdine senior Samantha Cash said the Waves know the Southern beach well. 

“We’ll be comfortable there, but we have a lot of new people on the team,” she said. “Us older players will have to help the younger players prepare for it because it’s a different venue.” 

The No. 2 ranked Waves are one of eight college sand volleyball teams from across the nation participating in the inaugural NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship May 6-8. 

Pepperdine has vied for the top spot in beach volleyball at the close of every season since 2011. The Waves finished the season as national titlists in 2012 and 2014. Pepperdine was upset by Long Beach State last May in the championship semifinals. 

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This week’s title hunt is different from previous years, though. In seasons past, women’s college beach volleyball, the fastest-growing NCAA sport, was known as an emerging sports program, so certain aspects of the sport, like the championship, did not receive NCAA funding. In previous seasons, the title-event was known as the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship. 

Waves coach Nina Matthies said there is not much difference between winning an AVCA title or NCAA title for her squad because grabbing the title has always been the pinnacle of what Pepperdine has tried to achieve.

“I’m really excited for my team,” the Pepperdine Hall of Fame coach said. “We have been to the national championship the last five years, which is cool.” 

Senior Sophie Asprey said competing in the first-ever NCAA championships is added pressure, but a good pressure to have.

“We are taking it one step at a time,” she said. “Every game is important, but every game is just another game we need to take care of.” 

Pepperdine, seeded third in the championships, will square off against the sixth-seeded Arizona Wildcats on Friday, May 6, at 10 a.m. The Waves beat the Wildcats, 3-2, at the beginning of April in the Zuma Classic. 

The other teams in the championship event are Florida State, USC, UCLA, Hawaii, Georgia State and Stetson. 

If Pepperdine beats Arizona in the opening-round of the double-elimination event, they will advance to play the winner of the USC/Georgia State match. 

Pepperdine heads into the national title field after winning the inaugural West Coast Conference title on April 23. Pepperdine defeated Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount with 5-0 sweeps to win the league title. 

Senior Taylor Rasich said winning the WCC title in its first year was an amazing experience. 

“The tournament they put together was outstanding,” she said. 

“It was nice to establish ourselves as the top dog in the WCC,” Matthies added. 

Pepperdine’s season began in March with a string of victories in Malibu contests. The squad did not suffer their first loss until they were beaten by UCLA at the end of the month. By then, Pepperdine had posted 11 wins. Pepperdine then rang up four consecutive wins before losing to USC twice in mid-April. The team is currently on a four-game winning streak. 

Pepperdine is a mixed bag of experienced players and six freshmen. Matthies said the team had some newness to it because it featured all-new doubles. “No pairs had played together the past couple of years,” said the coach. Matthies explained that she realized early in the season the new pairings would work well together. 

The accolades piled up just like the wins for Pepperdine. Matthies was named the WCC Coach of the Year. Pepperdine junior Delaney Knudsen, and freshmen Kaity Bailey and Madalyn Roh, were named to the All-WCC first team. Their teammates, Racich and freshmen Skylar Caputo and Anika Wilson, were picked for the All-WCC second team. 

Roh, Caputo and Heidi Dyer were named to the WCC All-Freshman team. 

Rasich said she takes a moment to look at the 2012 and 2014 AVCA Championship banners on display every time she walks into Pepperdine’s gymnasium. 

“I think how cool would it be to make history,” she said. “We already made history with the WCC, but how cool would it be for this team to win the NCAA national championship?” 

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