Women's Volleyball Reports to Camp
Aug. 8, 2005
MALIBU, Calif. - Expectations were high entering the 2004 volleyball season for Pepperdine. The Waves were coming off the best season in school history posting a 27-3 mark and advancing to "Elite Eight" of the NCAA tournament. But injuries took their toll on the young team as it struggled to find its identity as the team failed to advance to the postseason for the first time since 1996, posting an overall record of 10-15, 7-7 in the West Coast Conference (WCC). But head coach Nina Matthies and staff has never accepted losing and look to right the ship in 2005.
This season marks of the final year for a Pepperdine class which was tabbed as the No. 7 recruiting class in the country by Volleyball Magazine as incoming freshmen. Setter Melissa `Missy' Mehlhorn will be starting her third season as the team's floor general, outside hitter Katy Daly led the team in kills a year ago and Breegan Mulligan spent much of 2004 recovering from shoulder surgery and should be back to posting the type of numbers which earned her WCC co-Freshman of the Year honors in 2002. The trio had not lost a conference match until last season when the school's 42-match conference win streak came to a halt on October 2 at the hands of Saint Mary's. This group will be counted on for guidance and leadership as the 2005 freshmen come to Malibu as the No. 10 class in the nation.
Mehlhorn enters the season with 3,170 career assists which ranks her fourth in school history. The 2003 all-pacific region honorable mention, is 37-18 as a starter and has led Pepperdine to a 21-7 mark in WCC matches. With Mehlhorn directing the offense in 2003, the Waves led the WCC in hitting percentage, while as a starter Pepperdine is hitting at a .224 clip. The 5-foot-9 Tempe, Ariz., native also provides one of the best blocks on the team averaging 1.00 blocks per game a year ago, ranking her 10th in the conference.
"Missy is coming off a tremendous spring season," said Matthies. "Over the course of her three seasons here she has really matured into what I feel is one of the finest setters in the country. She will be the leader of this year's team no question, and I look for her so set the expectation level very high as the team strives to reach its goals."
Sophomore Chevon Crum will serve as Mehlhorn's back up again this season. In 19 games, as a freshman, the Phoenix, Ariz., native recorded seven assists.
THE MIDDLE BLOCKERS
The middle blocker position should be one of the strengths of this year's squad with the return of junior six-foot-four Sophia Milo and six-five sophomore Lecca Roberts, both of whom saw significant playing time in 2005. This duo was the backbone of a Waves team which averaged almost three blocks per game a year ago.
Milo returns to the Pepperdine line up after spending the summer training with the US National team. The 2004 first team all-WCC selection is one of the most highly decorated athletes on the roster, earning 2003 Freshman of the Year honors as well as being tabbed all-WCC honorable mention. Milo ranks just outside the school's top 10 list for career blocks after posting over 120 total blocks in her first two seasons, a pace which would make her the program's all-time blocking leader by season's end.
"We are going to look to Sophia to carry a big role for us this year," notes Matthies. "She was granted a wonderful opportunity to train with the National Team over the summer where she worked out with some of the top middle blockers in the country. As she continues to mature and improve both mentally and physically, I can see her being our go-to player."
While Milo's position is secure among the front line, there will be fierce competition for playing time at the M2 spot. Six-foot-five Roberts could have the inside track to the lion's share of playing time having fully recovered from an injured ankle most of last season. The Kula, Hawaii, native ended the year third on the team in blocks, while recording 2.57 kills per game. Former Fab 50 Kristin McClune ended 2004 second on the team in hitting percentage, while averaging 1.98 kills and 0.77 blocks per game but underwent shoulder surgery in January. The timetable for her return is around the start of WCC play. In McClune's absence, newcomer Cassandra (Cassi) Chamberlain is expected to make a strong push for playing time.
"The group of middles is as strong and as deep as we have ever had in my 23 years at Pepperdine," boasts Matthies. "Lecca is a true student of the game. She can and will do anything she is asked to do in an effort to continuously improve. Cassi brings an added dimension to the middle blocker position as she is quicker than Sophia and Lecca but still has a great arm swing. Cassi has had some great coaching and played in a great prep organization. With the players we have on the roster I will have the ability to change the flow of a game by rotating my middles."
THE OUTSIDE HITTERS
Finding the right chemistry on the outside will be the greatest task during two-a-days as six athletes will compete for three starting positions. Matthies and staff could spend the first few weeks mixing and matching players at any of outside hitter positions to find the best line up heading into WCC play.
Daly was the go to player on last year's team, recording a team-leading 393 kills. She was solid on the defensive end as well, logging over three digs per game at the O1 position.
Mulligan sat out the majority of her junior year after having shoulder surgery during the summer, but successfully completed her rehab and looked strong over the final few matches. If she can return to the form that saw her post 200-plus kill season as a freshman and sophomore, she should solidify her place among the starting six.
"Daly and Breegan have really stepped up in their roll as a senior," says Matthies. "They have taken on a great senior role whether in the gym or in the weight room. I feel like these two, especially, have decided that they want to make an impact in their final year and leave a legacy behind."
But there will be at least three freshmen looking to make an immediate impact on the outside in Meghan Scheenstra, Caitlin Lawson and Julie Rubenstein. Scheenstra saw action early in 2004 but was granted a medical redshirt after the discovery of a stress fracture in her leg. A former Fab 50 selection Scheenstra has the tools to be a standout for four years. But Lawson and Rubenstein are coming off tremendous Prep careers and could both find their way into the starting line up by conference start.
"All of our freshmen are coming off their club seasons on a high note," notes Matthies. "They are coming in strong and in shape. Being standouts their entire prep careers, they all want to contribute right away. That mentality should lead to great competition in the preseason for starting spots.
THE DEFENSIVE SPECIALIST
Replacing the program's all-time dig leader Christina Hinds will be no small task. Hinds led the Waves and the WCC in digs at 5.73 per game in 2004. But Kekai Crabbe has a wealth of experience after posting 3.20 digs per game as a sophomore. Crabbe is the shortest player on a Pepperdine roster which averages six-feet, standing at just five-foot-six. But height is not a requirement for the libero position and the Honolulu, Hawaii, native is solid on defense only committing 13 reception errors in 90 games.
"Kekai brings a love and enthusiasm of the game to the team and it just rubs off on the rest of the team," said Matthies. "She really has a tremendous vest for not only volleyball, but for life as well."
Part of being a great outside hitter is one's ability to pass the ball. With a roster chalked full of capable outside hitters, those not starting on the outside will be expected to step into the game in a defensive position.
"I am looking for some of our outside hitters to possibly step into the role of the libero or defensive specialist," notes Matthies. "It is going to be a hard task setting the starting lineup because this is such a versatile group. Breegan very well could be our best overall passer but it may be best for the team to have her on the outside. Every player can play multiple positions which makes my job as a coach that much harder, but that much more fun. It will be my job to make sure we have the best six players on the floor at any given time."