The Pepperdine Waves women’s soccer team’s practices haven’t been easygoing. In fact, Waves head coach Tim Ward said, the training sessions have been the opposite.
“There is a lot of competition,” he said. “Practices have been amazing. Every game we play has been a tie game. We have to sort it out with tiebreakers and PK [penalty kick] shootouts or crazy scenarios.”
The reason for the competitive practices?
Pepperdine’s 29-woman roster is awash in talented players. The Waves return a swath of players — including all their starting midfielders and defenders — from a squad that advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 last November, and have a group of new players that Ward and his coaching staff consider the most athletically skilled Pepperdine freshman class ever. Ward said the Waves players are playing so well that he has trouble coming up with lineups.
“It’s a coach’s dream and nightmare because every time I select a lineup, I’m like, ‘Boy, I have a great lineup today,’ but I know there are going to be some girls on the bench just chomping at the bit to get on the field,” Ward said. “That should serve us very well in terms of our match preparation, keeping people honest, and making sure no one takes their foot off the gas because the girls on the team know if they do that someone is going to take their spot.”
Ward’s lineup construction and the players’ talent will be on display as Pepperdine kicks off their season. The Waves, coming off a historic 2021 campaign, host Cal State Northridge at Pepperdine’s Tari Frahm Rokus Field on Thursday, then play at UC San Diego on Sunday.
Pepperdine’s coach said soccer is an amazing sport because any day anyone can beat anyone, but noted because of the Waves’ variety of players, depth, and athleticism the team has a strong belief that they can solve most challenges opponents meet them with on the pitch.
“If it gets physical, we have the players to break that down,” Ward said. “We have a lot of answers to different ways that teams go about it. Our team is more flexible than we have ever been.”
The Waves finished last season with a 17-4-1 record, which included a 6-2-1 record in the West Coast Conference. The win total was one victory shy of tying the program record. The squad also had 13 shutouts a season ago, also one less then a school record. Additionally, the Waves earned a national seed in last November’s NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in program history and advanced to the postseason event’s round of 16 for the fourth time.
Ward said the Waves want to go further than the tournament’s third round though.
“We really want the four Sweet 16s to be basecamp for our summit,” he said. “We really feel like we have the team that could go places.”
The Waves lost standout goalkeeper Zoe Clevely to graduation. Defending the goal now are freshman Harlee Head, redshirt freshman Taylor Rath, and junior Ellie Sommers. Ward said the three will split time in the net right now.
“It’s healthy and competitive, but very respectful,” he said. “Whoever gets the nod on the day, the other two and the whole team will rally around that player.”
Some of the Waves top goal scorers in 2021 — Joelle Anderson, Deyvn Gilfoy, and Calista Reyes — also graduated. Junior midfielder/forward Tori Waldeck, Pepperdine’s second-leading scorer with nine goals and assist leader with 10 is back, though. So is third-leading scorer, senior midfielder, Carlee Giammona, who netted seven goals in 2021. Ward said players such as redshirt senior forward Leyla McFarland, sophomore forward Kelsey Adams and freshman forwards Tatum Wynalda, Melina Livadas, and Kyra Murphy could add some scoring punch.
Pepperdine features key returning defenders such as redshirt sophomore Kam Pickett, junior Victoria Romero and redshirt seniors Kelsey Hill and Trinity Watson. There are also key contributing midfielders including junior Julianna Duckett and sophomore Tabitha LaParl, and senior Shelby Little. Junior Skylar Enge, sophomores Kelsey Adams and Caroline Coleman, and freshman such as Taylor Bloom, Erin Zeile, Kendall Campbell, and Karina Gonzalez also could make an impact on defense and in the midfield.
The Waves were picked to finish third in the WCC behind BYU and Santa Clara in a preseason vote by the conference’s coaches. Waldeck and Watson were selected as preseason All-WCC honorees. Waldeck was an All-WCC first team selection at the end of last season. The year before, Waldeck was named to the All-WCC second team and All-Freshman team. Watson, who has scored 12 career goals and converted six penalty kicks on as many attempts, one shy of the Pepperdine record, was named to the All-WCC second team in 2021. Before that, she was a two-time All-WCC first team pick.
Pepperdine recorded a 2-0 win over USC in a home exhibition match on Aug. 11. Livadas and Wynalda netted goals for the Waves in the contest.
Livadas received a header from Murphy in the game’s 37th minute and then kicked the ball past the USC goalkeeper to give Pepperdine a 1-0 lead. In the 50th minute, Wynalda right-footed the ball to the left side of USC’s goalie for Pepperdine’s second goal after receiving a pass from Zeile.
Ward said the Waves had more scoring attempts than USC and that three of those kicked balls hit crossbar instead of the back of the net.
“We had a few glorious chances that we missed,” he recalled. “We played beautifully.”
Pepperdine hosts LSU on Aug. 25 and San Diego State three days later. They play at UC Santa Barbara on Sept. 1 and at California on Sept. 4.
Ward said the Waves aren’t afraid to play anyone this season and noted that player management, due to all the talent present, could be the squad’s biggest challenge.
“Our team can represent Pepperdine really well this fall, but time will tell,” he said. “We have a team that could give a lot of people problems.”