Pepperdine Soccer Practice Begins Ahead of Exhibition Against CSUN

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Waves chase the ball during a drill.

Pepperdine Waves soccer players propelled themselves at the soccer ball during a drill late in their Aug. 2 morning practice.

The action wasn’t for the meek of foot. 

Members of the women’s college soccer team—some outfitted in gray Pepperdine soccer t-shirts, others wearing orange mesh jerseys over their white or gray Waves soccer garb—bumped, nudged and stiff-armed each other while in pursuit of the ball. The players didn’t stop with that during the three-on-two exercise. Whoever nabbed the ball then had to score on their opposite color-wearing teammates. 

After a netted or missed kick, another ball was booted in the field of play and the offensive and defensive drill continued with a new quintet. 

Senior defender Michelle Maemone said after the practice that playing with potency is something a player either has or doesn’t.

“There has to be some type of intensity,” she said, “some type of drive that separates you from other players.” 

During the early day practice (the first of two that day) and a practice the day before, Pepperdine’s 32 players competed in conditioning exercises without the ball and competed against each other with the ball in between neon-colored cones laid out on the field.

Pepperdine head coach Tim Ward said by the end of the first week of practice he and his assistant coaches began to instruct the Waves in tactics that will be part of their game plan for the season. 

“We try to create a really clear vision and philosophy of, ‘This is what we are going to do on the defensive side of the ball, this what we are going to do on offense and this is what we are going to do in set pieces,’” he said. “Good soccer players figure it out.” 

The team’s strategy will be tested in its scrimmage at the University of California, Northridge on Friday. The CSUN matchup is seven days before Pepperdine’s first regular season game, a contest at Kansas. The group’s first home match is Aug. 24 against Brown.

Pepperdine posted a 15-3-3 record in 2017. The season concluded with the Waves advancing to the second round of the NCAA soccer tournament in November, 13 days after winning their second consecutive West Coast Conference title. 

Maemone, a forward-turned-defensive player, said the Waves are excited about the opportunity to net a third straight conference crown. 

“We all have some really big goals and dreams for this year, and an opportunity to do something that no Pepperdine team has done—a three-peat,” she said. 

The last team to win the conference three or more seasons in a row was Portland, WCC champs from 2007 to 2010.

Pepperdine has finished at the top of the WCC four times since the soccer program’s initial season in 1993.

Senior goalie Brielle Preece, the 2017 WCC goal keeper of the year, said ending the 2018 season atop the WCC is one of many driving forces for Pepperdine. 

“It’s our first stepping stone,” she said, “definitely getting into the NCAA tournament and making it far in that is another. Our main goal is winning the tournament.” 

But first, the Waves must wash through a 19-game regular season that features matchups against rivals UCLA and USC in the season’s first two months and more out-of-conference contests against Indiana, Texas Tech, St. John’s, San Diego State, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. Kansas and Brown are also non-WCC opponents. 

Pepperdine begins facing WCC foes late next month. Those opponents include BYU, Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Pacific, Portland, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara, San Diego and San Francisco. Pepperdine went 8-0-1 in conference play last season. 

When Pepperdine’s schedule was announced in June, Ward said he expected the opposition to be tough. 

“Every year we try to build a schedule that’s going to test us prior to the WCC,” he said. “If we can get results against some of those schools, then it puts us in good position, perhaps to get an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament should we not win the WCC. But that’s another goal of ours, to three-peat.”

The Waves team, which finished last season ranked 16th in national polls, believes it has the personnel to do it. Including Maemone and Preece, Pepperdine returns seven of 11 starters and 17 of 23 letter winners from the 2017 squad.  

Senior defender Danielle Thomas, a returning starter, said after an eight-month offseason—in which the Waves got together for some exhibition matches in February and a trip to Costa Rica in the spring—she is looking forward to building cohesion with her teammates.

“It’s about development,” she said. “We haven’t played together in a while.”

Thomas, scorer of four goals in her Waves career, said, “Individually, what we did over the summer can shine through in our game, but how we play as a team is what matters.”

Preece, the owner of Pepperdine-record 62 saves and a .873 save percentage a season ago, referenced the squad’s theme, Bushido, the code of honor and ideals developed by Japanese samurai, when discussing the progression she envisions the team having. 

“It’s something to ground our mentality on,” said the goaltender, also linking the Japanese “way of warriors” to her team’s championship aspirations. “Living life in every breath. You have to do the small things and be grounded to get to that point.” 

Maemone wants to look back on this season and know she and her teammates enjoyed it and left a legacy they can be content with.

“I think we can say we have been really proud of these last few years and what we have been able to accomplish,” she said. “This last year is like, ‘Let’s just do our best, play together, play for each other, play to represent Pepperdine well and we will be fine.’” 

Ward said the Waves will learn a lot about themselves against CSUN, their first opponent of the season.

“Some girls maybe don’t want to make mistakes, but when the whistle blows and you get between the lines,” he said, “players play.”