Waves Sand Volleyball in Championship Field Again

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The Waves sand volleyball team will return to the American Volleyball Coaches Associate Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships for the fourth year in a row.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Pepperdine Waves sand volleyball team will be hunting for a national title on the Alabama coastline. 

The Waves will be vying for their third title since 2012 among an eight-team field that includes Georgia State, Hawaii, Florida International, Florida State, Long Beach State, Stetson and the University of Southern California (USC) from May 1-3 at the American Volleyball Coaches Associate (AVCA) Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships in Gulf Shores. 

The AVCA National Championship Selection Committee announced that the AVCA fourth-ranked Waves were invited back to defend their 2014 title crown on Monday evening. The Waves, coached by Nina Matthies, won the event in 2012 and were runner-ups in 2013. 

Coach Matthies said the team is excited to be in the running for the title again.

“We are pretty fired up,” she said. “The girls have been working really hard. We are really happy we made it.” 

Pepperdine will begin its championship chase with a match-up against fifth-ranked Georgia State on the initial day of the two-day event. During the match, each school will field five double teams ranked in order and play the corresponding pair from an opponent. The school that wins three of the five flights will move onto the next round of play. 

If Pepperdine wins, it will play top-ranked USC or eighth-seeded Stetson. If Pepperdine wins the championship this year, it will have claimed three of the four championships in college sand volleyball’s history. 

In years past, the Waves entered the championships with either zero or one loss. This year is a bit different. Pepperdine posted a 10-4 record during the regular season, which Matthies credited to stronger competition in the fledgling college sport.

“We lost a couple of matches that we haven’t lost in the last couple of years by just two points here and there,” she said. “We are where we want to be right now. Maybe in the last couple of years we have won those matches by one or two points that we lost this year.” 

Pepperdine completed its regular season on April 11 in the USAV Beach Collegiate Challenge in Hermosa Beach. During the event, the Waves beat Concordia College and San Francisco. 

The Waves began the season ranked atop the AVCA polls, but started the season on March 6 by going 1-1 in the Hawaii Tournament in Honolulu, then went on to beat Florida State and Texas Christian in individual contests. Pepperdine knocked off CSU Bakersfield and Grand Canyon in the USAV Beach Collegiate Challenge on March 14 before beating Long Beach State five days later, then fell to USC on March 24.

In the Palmetto Invitational in Columbia, S.C. on March 28, Pepperdine lost to Florida International and defeated South Carolina. In the week before the USAV Beach Collegiate Challenge, the Waves lost again to USC, but beat Long Beach State. 

Matthies said she believes her squad is peaking at the right time.

“This team has matured,” she said.

Eleven members of the 2014 championship squad return to the championship this year for the Waves, including their quartet of AVCA All-Americans: junior Becca Strehlow, senior Lara Dykstra, and redshirt seniors Kelley Larsen and Kellie Woolever. 

Matthies said the Waves are ready to chase the national championship.

“I think once you get to this point in time in the season the best teams are at the championships,” she said. “Every year, the best teams have been in the finals and we have beat them twice. I feel like it is the same thing this year. We have seen everyone that we have to play, and I think we are ready to see them again.”