Pepperdine Waves women’s beach volleyball players Melanie Paul and Madison Shields were down but not out.
The two seniors were trailing 9-3, then 11-6 in the first set of their match against the Cal State Northridge twosome of Emily Sparks and Lauren Eknoian on April 3 at the Pepperdine Beach Volleyball Courts, but then cheered on by Waves fans and their teammates, Paul and Shields, also affectionally known as Mad Dog, stormed back to nearly win the set before the CSUN pair won 21-19. The Waves pair then dominated the next two sets 21-9 and 15-8.
The duo’s victory was one of five for Pepperdine as the Waves swept CSUN 5-0 and celebrated Senior Day.
Paul, an All-West Coast Conference first-teamer last season, said there was some miscommunication between her and Shields during the first set, but they corrected it quickly.
“We just showed we are better than we were in the first set,” said Paul, a Chilean and the beach volleyball program’s first international athlete.
Shields said she and Paul are probably the most competitive women on the Waves’ roster.
“We just build off each other’s intensity,” Shields said. “I feel like when we are on a roll we are unstoppable.”
Paul and Shields were among the seven Waves players honored before, during, and after the triumph. The other Waves recognized were Mary Sinclair, Rio Frohoff, Savana Greene, Peyton Lewis, and Simone Priebe.
Paul, Priebe, and Lewis were freshmen on the team in the spring of 2019. Greene joined the beach team in 2020 after being a member of the Pepperdine indoor squad for two seasons. Shields was a libero with the indoor team for four seasons before joining the beach team this season, and Frohoff, a graduate student, previously played four undergraduate seasons at Tulane. Sinclair, a junior, is graduating early.
The seven have helped Pepperdine rack up 52 wins, including a 22-7 home record the last four seasons, en route to two WCC championship final appearances and one appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Waves head coach Marcio Sicoli called the septet a special group because of how they still competed in their sport in the face of the difficult times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of November 2018 Woolsey Fire.
“Their resiliency to just stay, to stay with the program and trust our staff, trust our school and their teammates is incredible.” he said. “I am really appreciative of them. I told them that they will hopefully never go through something like that in life again.”
Sicoli will always remember how flexible the group has been in juggling practices, games, school, and a litany of coronavirus testing.
“Volleyball-wise, every time they are on the court it is awesome, but what sticks out to me through their time here is how well they did through COVID,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Paul is glad the number of Pepperdine beach volleyball players set to receive degrees this spring increased from three to seven this season.
“I feel like we are all connected very well and get along,” she said. “It’s nice to be part of a group and not alone.”
The celebrated Waves were given flowers and leis that they wore throughout Senior Day (save for when they were diving and spiking and passing the ball on the sand). The seven teammates held up neon-hued posters with their names emblazed on them throughout their matches and cheered them on. Shelly Priebe, Simone’s mother, recited a poem written about the graduating Waves after the win over CSUN.
Pepperdine, ranked 16th in national polls at press time, had the upper hand against CSUN from the beginning of the contest. Priebe and freshman McKenna Thomas were the first Waves pair to grab victory and did so convincingly. In their first set, the duo had leads of 17-9 and 19-12 before winning 21-17. Priebe and Thomas grabbed the two-set victory by winning the next set 21-12.
The contest was the graduating Waves last game on Pepperdine sand.
Priebe, who will play at the University of South Carolina next season as a graduate student, was a bit nervous before the match, but was happy to nab the win with Thomas.
“There was some extra emotion today,” she said.
Thomas was excited to play with Priebe on Senior Day.
“I just wanted to make her last home game special and play well with her,” Thomas revealed.
Freshman Kate Clermont and sophomore Cameron Baklenko put Pepperdine up 2-0 by taking a pair from CSUN 21-13, 12-5. Lewis and freshman Juju Quintero clinched the overall contest for the Waves by winning their match 21-11, 21-18. Additionally, sophomores Jordan Benoit and Gracie Pedersen then grabbed a 21-15, 21-7 win on the exhibition court.
Paul and Shields then won their match, and were followed by Greene and Frohoff, who were also victorious in three sets — 21-12, 19-21, 15-9.
Priebe and Thomas, one of two Pepperdine senior/freshman combos this season, enjoy being a duo. Thomas, 18, said the 21-year-old Priebe is a good person to talk with about issues on or off the sand.
“I get all the senior knowledge,” she said. “I like getting her advice.”
The first-year Pepperdine athlete then called the graduating Waves a great group.
“It’s very sad for me see that they are leaving because we have had such a great year with them,” Thomas said. “I can tell they all have their hearts in beach volleyball. If you have the passion and drive that shows. That is something you can really admire. Its great to see that love for volleyball.”
Shields said just wants to show she is grateful to be surrounded by great teammates and given the chance to compete.
“I have pride in wearing the Pepperdine jersey out on the beach,” she said. “It is something I have always wanted to do.”
The Waves have a 17-8 record heading into the two-day TCU Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. They will play Houston Baptist on Friday at 10 a.m., then take on Missouri State at 2 p.m. Pepperdine will face Stanford on Saturday at 5:30 a.m., then play TCU four hours later.
The Waves were on a three-game losing streak before they downed CSUN. They were beaten by Long Beach State on April 7 and lost previous matches to Georgia State and Florida Atlantic in the North Florida Invite earlier this month. The squad began the event with wins over Florida State and North Florida. Pepperdine began the season in February with wins over Pacific, Vanguard, and Cal State Bakersfield.
The Waves downed Cal State L.A. and Concordia at a tournament in Irvine last month before gaining wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Mercer at a tournament in South Carolina, where they also lost to South Carolina and LSU.
Pepperdine defeated Southern Mississippi and Long Beach State at the Malibu Invite last month also.
Paul said Pepperdine has had some bumps in the road this season, but they are getting better every day.
“As a team, we are good and bouncing back,” she said.
The Waves, Sicoli said, are excited to about the opportunity to compete for a conference championship later this month at the WCC Championships in Santa Monica and want to vie for a national title at the NCAA Championships in Florida in May.
“We are prepared,” he said. “We are going to fine-tune over the next few weeks and go for it.”
Priebe is glad she and the rest of graduating Waves have had a hand in setting the tone in a good season for Pepperdine and is looking for the success to continue.
“I love it,” she said. “I am sad to finish this chapter.”