2013 Pepperdine Women's Volleyball Season Outlook
Aug 22, 2013
MALIBU, Calif. - Despite returning five starters from 2012, the makeup of the 2013 edition of the Pepperdine women's volleyball team looks dramatically different. With nine new players in the gym, including seven freshmen, the Waves will have to rely on their crop of youngsters in order to be successful in the ever-competitive West Coast Conference, and of course realize the ultimate goal of making a postseason run in the NCAA Tournament.
Veteran returners include All-American setter Kellie Woolever (Long Beach, Calif./Woodrow Wilson HS), middle blocker Samantha Cash (San Diego, Calif./Canyons Crest Academy) and outside hitters Kelley Larsen (Jamul, Calif./Christian HS), Katie Messing (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands HS) and Taylor Racich (Santa Barbara, Calif./Dos Pueblos HS).
The crew was an integral part of Pepperdine's 20-12 season in 2012, which saw the Waves reach the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd time in program history.
"With such a large group of newcomers this year, we are looking to our veterans for leadership, direction and `showing the way,'" said head coach Nina Matthies, who will be inducted in the Pepperdine Athletics Hall of Fame this October as she enters her 31st season with the Waves. "They've really taken that task to heart and are making sure everyone's ship is pointing in the same direction.
"Our freshmen are competing really hard and know they have the opportunity to contribute, even start, right away." continued Matthies, once again assisted by Tim Jensen, Marcio Sicoli and Jon Daze. "Our older kids understand what it takes to be a part of a team, to be a Wave, and the freshmen are learning those lessons quickly.
"Everyone - returners, freshmen and transfers - they are all Pepperdine kids. They are all exactly the type of kids we want on the team and are here for the right reasons," boasted Matthies. "`Competing with Purpose' is something they embody to the fullest."
One of the biggest changes from last year is the number of setters in the gym. Last year Woolever, an AVCA All-American third team selection, was the lone setter and carried the weight of the team on her shoulders. This year she is joined by three more setters, Ryann Chandler (Del Mar, Calif./Torrey Pines HS), Monique Domme (Colorado Springs, Colo./Cheyenne Mountain HS) and Becca Strehlow (Long Beach, Calif./Woodrow Wilson HS), and already Matthies sees the impact of that in training.
"Kellie was in a tough position last year being the only setter and was under a tremendous amount of pressure," said the head coach. "Now I see her able to play freely knowing she has a great support system.
"I have four really good setters and our practices have been fantastic as a result," continued Matthies. "It's benefiting everyone."
Woolever led the WCC and ranked 20th in the NCAA with an 11.32 assists average as a junior. On the defensive end, she ranked second on the team and 12th in the league with a digs average of 3.21.
Time and time again, Matthies has dubbed Woolever "one of the best setters in the country" and continues to praise her senior setter this year: "She's in shape, she's a great leader and now that the pressure is off she is able to really have fun out there. She's going to have a great year."
Freshmen Chandler and Domme offer some of that support and are some of the most top-notch athletes Matthies' staff has ever seen:
"They both bring a lot of speed to the team and are tremendous team players and leaders," boasted Matthies. "Whether it is in the gym, weight room or on the track, their work ethic is phenomenal. They know how to make everyone around them better."
Strehlow, a sophomore transfer from UCLA, is another accomplished setter and boasts a remarkably similar resume to Woolever's. Both graduated from Woodrow Wilson Classical High School and played alongside one another for two seasons. After Woolever earned Moore League Player of the Year status in 2008 and 2009, Strehlow followed in her footsteps as the league MVP in 2011.
At UCLA, Strehlow was a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honorable mention and averaged 10.39 assists.
"Becca and Kellie have known each other for a long team and are good friends. They complement one another well," Matthies said. "Becca will be a phenomenal mentor to our freshmen as she studies and understands who we are playing against. I'm truly blessed to have all of them.
"It's our task as coaches to maximize everyone's strengths and figure out how we can use four setters effectively," closed Matthies.
A talented brigade of outside hitters is in Matthies' arsenal in 2013, including returners Larsen, Messing and Racich. All three have experience playing on the both the left and right sides. Last season, Larsen and Messing both saw time at the outside hitting position, while Racich was the starter on the right side.
Larsen is coming off a phenomenal junior campaign, which saw her play in every indoor match and go nearly undefeated in the sand arena. She and Woolever, aka "Team Kell(i)ey," went 27-1 during the 2013 sand volleyball season, which included a 20-0 mark in dual matches. Larsen has been Matthies' go-to utility player, and has served as an outside hitter, defensive specialist, back-row attacker and even libero.
"Every team should have a Kelley Larsen," remarked Matthies, who was honored last spring as the inaugural winner of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Coach of the Year award. "She's a subtle player, never too flashy, and simply put, gets the job done whatever it might be. We are looking for a lot from her this season. We need her passing and ball control, and of course her senior leadership."
Messing, a 6-foot-4 junior, averaged 2.39 kills/set as a sophomore after collecting 2.29 kills/set during her rookie campaign. As one of the lead returning point scorers, she'll certainly be a go-to offensive option on the floor and looking to increase her output.
"Training in the sand all spring really helped Katie with personal growth and as an all-around player," Matthies commented. "She's already taken on more of a leadership role and is really working on the little things that before were difficult at her height. She's moving well, hitting well and has come back stronger than ever. We need her size and Katie has put in a tremendous amount of work this spring and summer to be that starter."
Racich, now a sophomore, boasts the title of lead returning point scorer. She ranked third on the team in 2012 with 226 kills, second with 70 total blocks and tied for first with 32 aces. Now with a year of experience under her belt, Matthies has high hopes for Racich in 2013.
"What a great kid," commented Matthies. "We put a lot on her shoulders last year putting her in that starting role on the opposite side and she did fantastic.
"Now a year older and a year wiser, she's focused and her passing has improved tremendously. Taylor's serve is great and she's so much fun to be around and watch."
Bergeson, a 2012-13 AVCA Under Armour Second Team All-American and 2012 Mizuno/Volleyball Magazine All-American third team honoree, stands at 6-2 and is one of three Texans on this season's squad.
"Jillian comes in as a tremendous athlete and excelled in a number of sports in high school," said Matthies of her freshman. "She's an enthusiastic competitor but is calm and steady. With her ball control and competitive nature, she will find a spot for herself on the floor. She does everything well, now it's just a matter of catching up to the curve."
Palmeri also comes in as a highly touted prep star, having been named the 2012 Sacramento Bee Player of the Year and a MaxPreps California All-State Division I MVP and first-team selection.
"Gaby is a tremendous athlete," said Matthies. "She's a very analytical player and works hard. She moves well and can play on the left or the right side. Just a super kid."
Four middle blockers are at Matthies' disposal this year, headlined by Cash. Vying for the vacant starting position are Brooke Honeycutt (Phoenix, Ariz./Desert Vista HS), Emma Fuzie (Carmel, Calif./Carmel HS) and Reegan Dennis (Newport Beach, Calif./Orange Lutheran HS).
Cash opened her Pepperdine career in a big way in 2011 and was rewarded with WCC Freshman of the Year honors. She paced the team with a blocks average of 1.18 - a number that ballooned to 1.40 blocks/set in league matches. Her season blocks total of 142.0 came up just two roofs shy of setting a new single-season rally scoring era record at Pepperdine.
Nagged with injury as a sophomore, her numbers made a slight decline in 2012 but she's back in 2013 with a clean bill of health and a drive to be the best.
"Sam spent the spring rehabbing, getting stronger and now is playing at an even higher level than before," claimed Matthies. "Her work ethic is second to none. She's always striving to be better and make others better, not just in volleyball, but in life. Every team should have a Samantha as a motor. Her enthusiasm makes her a joy in the gym."
With the loss of Victoria Adelhelm to graduation, three freshmen have been working hard in practice trying to earn the starting gig.
Honeycutt, the tallest of the incoming rookies at 6-3, comes in with a proven track record in the high school and club arenas. She was also a member of the USA Volleyball A2 team and was an alternate for the USAV Girls' Youth National team in 2010. She was a two-time Arizona 5A-1 All-State first team selection for Desert Valley High School
"Brooke comes in with great club experience and is a tremendous blocker with great arm speed," Matthies stated. "She's been a sponge in training, just listening and learning all she can. She has a calm demeanor about her but she's also a fierce competitor. I think she's going to surprise some people this season."
Honeycutt wasn't the only newcomer Matthies deemed a "surprise." Fuzie comes to Pepperdine slightly under the radar, but with no less potential than her freshmen peers.
"Emma is my little sneaky surprise, just a great athlete," said Matthies of the two-time Mission Trail Athletic League Most Valuable Player. "She's got a great jump, great arm and will see some playing time. Emma is versatile and could be used as a right side hitter as well."
Rounding out the trio of freshmen middle blockers is Dennis, a product of Orange Lutheran High School where she picked up Orange County All-Star team accolades.
"Reegan comes from a competitive high school and club and Pepperdine is where she wants to be," Matthies said. "She's working hard and just loves playing and training.
"Our depth in the middle is tremendous and makes everything better."
Waiting in the wings is Olivia Okoro (Carrollton, Texas/Hebron HS/Tennessee), who will redshirt this season after transferring from Tennessee.
"Olivia has `big school' experience," Matthies remarked. "It's going to be tough to redshirt, but with a solid year of training under her belt, she's going to become a great, well-rounded player. She's as quick as a cat and I'm excited to have her in the future."