Waves beach volleyball starts season with two victories in one day

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Pepperdine beach volleyball players McKenna Thomas (left) and Lexi McLeod celebrate a point scored against Houston Christian on Saturday, March 4. Photo Courtesy of Pepperdine Athletics

Pepperdine Waves women’s beach volleyball duo McKenna Thomas and Lexi McLeod won the first set of their match against Houston Christian’s Maddie Butters and Alison Stanfil by four points at the Pepperdine Beach Volleyball Courts on March 4. 

However, the Pepperdine pair was down 4-1 in the second set, then 13-10, then 17-13. Thomas, a sophomore, and McLeod, a graduate student, who previously played at Cal State Northridge, mounted a comeback but lost to Butters and Stanfil 17-21. 

The score was knotted at 4 early in the final set before Houston Christian’s duo gained a comfortable four-point lead. Then, as their teammates cheered them on from the sideline, Thomas and Mcleod began scoring points — spikes rocketed over the net, balls softly tapped onto the opponent’s sand — and tied the match at 13. The opposing duos went point for point before the Pepperdine pair secured the 17-15 victory. 

Thomas, the WCC Co-Freshman of the Year and the AVCA Top Flight awardee last season, tried to stay calm and measured throughout the comeback.

“Trusting our training is a mantra of ours,” she said. “I really just said, ‘It’s our home court and just volleyball. We’ve got our team cheering for us. Let’s just do what we do.’”

It was a winning day for the Waves. The squad snagged victories over Concordia and Houston Christian to begin the season with a 2-0 record. Pepperdine began the day with a 5-0 win over Concordia. They then beat Houston Christian by the same score. 

Waves head coach Marcio Sicoli liked how Pepperdine performed.

“There was nothing bad about today,” he recalled. “Winning the dual is always the cherry on top, but I’m really proud of what we are building.” 

The Waves team spirit, Thomas explained, was on display throughout the matches. 

“We all came together to support each other,” she noted. “Our camaraderie really showed today with us cheering each other on.” 

Thomas and Mcleod defeated Hannah Phair and Olivia Highstreet 21-5, 21-11 in the sweep of Concordia. Freshman Savannah Standage and sophomore Kate Clermont beat Tatum Smith and Bella Bush 21-13, 21-14, and graduate student Jasmin Suarez and junior Gracie Pedersen downed Hailee Ryan and Kelia Giusta 21-16, 21-17. Freshman Gracey Campbell and freshman Gabriella Perez beat Kelissa Lemoine and Eva Prewitt 15-21, 21-18, 15-10 and junior Kristine Briede and sophomore Madison Oriskovich defeated Lily Dyer and Carly Moreno 21-13, 21-18. Seniors Aubrey Roberts and freshman Mari Wright won an exhibition match 21-3, 21-16 over Lauren Clifton and Ashleigh Souza. 

Thomas and McLeod’s victory against Houston Christian was Pepperdine’s last of the day. 

Before that, Standage and Clermont beat Lindsay Harris and Kristen Kleymeyer 14-21, 21-14, 18-16; Suarez and Pedersen beat Abbey Reinard and Abbey Bufkin 21-16, 21-15; Campbell and Perez downed Shelby O’Neal and Alisia Silverthorn 21-12, 21-9; and sophomore Juju Quintero and junior Jordan Benoit defeated Mary Alper and Kylann Griffith 21-14, 15-21, 15-13. In the exhibition match, Pepperdine’s Chase Curry, a sophomore, and Emi Erickson, a freshman, were defeated 21-19, 21-19 by Killian Armstrong and Gabi Axelrod. 

Pepperdine’s season was scheduled to begin the prior weekend, but their duals against Long Beach State and California were canceled due to bad weather. The four teams hit the sand for those matches on Monday. 

Sicoli stated that having the season delayed a week gave Pepperdine more time to prepare for their campaign, which could run until early May if they qualify for the NCAA tournament. 

“We are a hardworking team,” he noted. “We are excited to play, but our development and culture is to work every day. It gave us more time to sharpen our knives. That is an advantage.”

Since Pepperdine was on spring break last week, Sicoli gave the girls two days off from practice. However, they did have some volleyball homework. The girls watched professional volleyball matches and discussed whatever notes they had from the competitions with the team.

“Its cool to see that teams at the top level do the same things as us,” Clermont said.

Clermont, a member of the WCC All-Freshman Team last season, also explained that the postponed season tipoff removed all of her first-game nerves. 

“I was just so eager to get out here,” she stated. “It was really fun today.” 

The Waves will host the Malibu Invite Friday to Sunday. Pepperdine will face Arizona Friday at 11 a.m. and North Florida the next day at 9 a.m. The Waves play San Francisco at 1 p.m. the final day of the showcase. 

Pepperdine will then play in the March 17-18 GCU Tournament in Phoenix. The Waves will face Arizona State, UC Davis, and Grand Canyon in the tournament. 

Pepperdine finished last season with a 22-12 record. The team’s season ended with a loss to LMU in the West Coast Conference championship game. 

The Waves were ranked 18th nationally at press time. The 16-member team is a balanced roster of newcomers and returning players. The players are focused on being one the top teams in the nation. 

“Every weekend we look forward to coming out here and showing what Team 12 is all about,” said Sicoli alluding to this being the 12th season of Pepperdine’s women’s beach volleyball.