March 14, 2012
MALIBU, Calif. - After arguably the most successful indoor volleyball season in Pepperdine history, the Waves will experience another historic moment this weekend when they open the inaugural season of sand volleyball. Fourteen members of the indoor team that reached the 2011 NCAA Tournament regional final, and two other highly touted sand players begin the 2012 campaign on March 16-18 with a four team tournament hosted by USC.
IN ATTENDANCE - In addition to Pepperdine, USC, Florida State and Long Beach State will be playing in both duals and an individual pairs tournament.
THE VENUE - USC will be hosting this weekend’s action at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, Calif. Action each day is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Even though the possibility of rain is forecast for portions of this Saturday and Sunday, the matches are expected to be contested.
THE FORMAT - This weekend’s three-day event will mirror how the AVCA National Championships are expected to run in April. The first day, pairs will compete in pool play to establish seeding for Sunday’s single elimination pairs tournament. Saturday, the four squads will compete head-to-head in dual play.
WHAT’S NEXT - A busy week is in store for Pepperdine, beginning March 21 with a dual at Long Beach State. The Waves then travel to Charleston, S.C. for duals with Alabama-Birmingham, the College of Charleston and Mercer on March 23-25.
THE PAIRS - Although head coach Nina Matthies has a good idea who will be paired with who to begin Friday’s action, she isn’t opposed to making adjustments with her lineup.
“Having never done this before, we simply won’t know what works best until we actually compete. We’re working to find the right combination to make everyone successful.,” said Matthies.
Likely to begin in the No. 1 spot in the line up is Caitlin Racich (Santa Barbara, Calif./Dos Pueblos HS), the Waves’ first-ever sand volleyball scholarship recipient, and transfer Summer Ross (Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad Seaside Academy), one of the most heralded beach players in the junior international circuit.
Ross became the first junior player to be named USA Volleyball Female Beach Player of the Year after winning both the FIVB Youth World Championships and the FIVB Junior World Championships in the same year in 2010.
“Both Summer and Caitlin are extremely versatile -- they can both block, play defense, hit -- and they also have the most experience playing in the sand than any of our other players,” Matthies explained.
“Summer has a very natural ability, and sees things exceptionally well. Caitlin and Summer compliment and push each other, and they are progressively growing together as a team.”
Currently playing together at No. 2 are seniors Kim Hill (Portland, Ore./Portland HS) and Lilla Frederick (Huntington Beach, Calif./Cornelia Connelly HS). Hill was an AVCA All-America first team selection during the 2011 indoor season, while both Hill and Frederick were voted to the All-West Coast Conference first team.
“Kim and Lilla are good friends and have great chemistry on the court. Both are great passers and hitters, and they’re extremely competitive -- just a solid unit all around,” boasted Matthies of her senior duo.
At No. 3, Stevi Robinson (Hermosa Beach, Calif./Mira Costa HS) will pair with Kelley Larsen (Jamul, Calif./Christian HS).
“Both are fairly experienced on the sand. Larsen has good ball control and is good at blocking, and of course Stevi is a fantastic passer.”
Robinson, the Waves’ starting libero from 2008-11, is the programs’ all-time leader in digs with a career tally of 1,750.
“Stevi and Kelley are a strong serving pair, and they also complement each other very well with their different strengths,” said Matthies. “Stevi is having a lot of fun being able to hit, and show she can do something besides pass the ball. She sees the court very well.”
Recently paired Kellie Woolever (Long Beach, Calif./Woodrow Wilson HS) and Victoria Adelhelm (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif./Santa Fe Christian HS) are currently sitting as the No. 4 pair in the lineup.
“They haven’t been playing together for very long, but I like their chemistry,” said Matthies of Woolever and Adelhelm.
In the final slot, three different student-athletes could see playing time including Michaela Christiaansen (Tucson, Ariz./Ironwood Ridge HS), Emily Cook (Huntington Beach, Calif./Murrieta Valley HS) and Kelli Branning (Menlo Park, Calif.-Menlo-Atherton HS), as well as Samantha Cash (San Diego, Calif./Canyon Crest Academy) and Katie Messing (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands HS).
“Mic, Emily and Kelli all have more experience playing sand volleyball than Sam and Katie,” stated Matthies. “(Sam and Katie) have the tools to be exceptional players, but they have work to do.”
Speaking of work, the Waves aren’t looking at this opportunity to play sand volleyball as just a day at the beach.
“We understand that this is an historic season and we are taking our training very seriously,” Matthies said.
“Not only are we training hard, but we are lifting and conditioning as well. We have high expectations both for our team and for individuals and we aren’t afraid to put in the work.
“The team and myself appreciate the support we have received from the University and the athletic department with the launch of sand volleyball.”
USC - The Trojans are coached by Anna Collier and are 1-0 this season after sweeping LMU in the opener. Sara Shaw and Geena Urango are USC’s No. 1 pair, followed by Katie Fuller and Natalie Hagglund at No. 2. In addition to sweeping the Lions in dual action, Fuller and Hagglund won the pairs competition.
LONG BEACH STATE - Under the guidance of successful indoor coach Brian Gimmallaro, LBSU is coming off a home sweep over Loyola Marymount. The 49ers are led by the No. 1 team of 6-2 senior Caitlin Ledoux and 5-11 sophomore Tara Roenicke, who won a gold medal at the FIVB Junior World Championships with Summer Ross.
FLORIDA STATE - Florida State, coached by former beach star Danalee Corso, has been dominant in 2012, with a 6-0 record (all 5-0 shutouts). The Seminoles feature 7 players from the indoor team that advanced to the 2011 NCAA Final Four, including seniors Jekaterina Stepanova of Latvia and 6-1 Visnja Djurdjevic of Serbia.
SAND VOLLEYBALL 101 - Each team competition is called a dual and will consist of five pairs from one school versus five pairs from another school. Each match is worth one point towards the team score. In this best-of-five format, a winner is determined when a team scores at least three points (similar to how collegiate tennis duals are contested).
The separate matches consist of the best-of-three sets, with rally scoring to 21 in the first two sets and to 15 in the third set if necessary. Teams must win by at least two points.
Pairs competitions will also be held this season, with the two-person teams being placed in brackets and playing in single elimination tournaments.
SOCIAL MEDIA - Fans can follow the Waves on Twitter @PepperdineWVB or @PepperdineWaves and “like” us on Facebook by searching for Pepperdine Athletics.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? - There are a few key elements of sand volleyball that differ from its indoor counterpart. No open hand tipping is allowed, and the block touch counts as the first of three allowable contacts. Coaches may only speak to players or give instruction during timeouts or between sets. Finally, to make a level playing field with regards to impact of the sun and wind, the players switch sides of the court every seven points in a 21 point set, and every five points in a 15 point set. The court is also smaller at 8x8 meters, while the indoor court is 9x9 meters.
WHAT’S AN EMERGING SPORT? - Collegiate sand volleyball is an “emerging sport.” It has 10 years to gain the minimum 40 sponsoring institutions for two years in a row to be considered an NCAA Championship sport.
Nina Matthies - Nina Matthies’ just completed her 29th season as head coach for the indoor team and boasts a career record of 553-319 (.632), which includes 10 conference championships and 19 NCAA Tournament appearances. She is by far the WCC’s all-time winningest coach and is a 10-time WCC Coach of the Year. Matthies was among the world’s top players and is a member of the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame. In 2009, Dig Magazine rated her and former partner Linda Hanley as the second-best women’s beach team of all time. She won two AIAW national championships as a player at UCLA.
VOLLEYBALL HISTORY — The Pepperdine women’s indoor volleyball program is synonymous with the word excellence, as the Waves are a perennial national power. The Waves have advanced to postseason play 26 times in 37 seasons, including 12 trips to the NCAA Championships in the last 15 seasons. Pepperdine’s best finishes in recent years came when the team made the regional final of the 2002 NCAAs, and again during the 2011 season.
ABOUT PEPPERDINE — Pepperdine boasts a one-of-a-kind athletic department with unprecedented success for a school of its size. The Waves have won NCAA Division I championships in five different men’s sports - one of just 16 schools to have accomplished this feat - and nine overall. Of this elite group, Pepperdine has the smallest enrollment and is the only school not in a major conference. Located in scenic Malibu, Calif., the university overlooks the Pacific Ocean and its campus and athletic facilities are regularly voted among the nation’s most beautiful.