Road to 2014 AVCA National Championship Begins Saturday

Lara Dykstra

March 6, 2014

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MALIBU, Calif. - The highly anticipated start to the 2014 sand volleyball season has arrived as the #1 Pepperdine sand volleyball team hosts both Cal State Northridge and #2 USC on Saturday. Dual action opens at 10 a.m.

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OUTLOOK - To no surprise, expectations are high for the 2014 season and with eight returning student-athletes from last season’s lineup, – including AVCA All-Americans Caitlin Racich and Lara Dykstra – two proven transfers and four promising newcomers, the Pepperdine women’s sand volleyball team has the tools to return to the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship for the third-consecutive year.

Armed with a preseason #1 ranking, the Waves will be tested early as Saturday’s tri-dual event at Zuma Beach features #2 USC.

Pepperdine has eight sand-only student-athletes on the roster this season that have been practicing since the fall. The majority of the indoor team made its way to Zuma Beach to begin practicing after the New Year, and now that number has been narrowed down to 14 student-athletes who will train full-time with the sand squad this spring.

“USC’s entire sand squad is separate from the indoor team and has been training since August,” explained head coach Nina Matthies. “They’re going to be a tough opponent for us. It’s great to play them early – a good barometer to gage how we are doing.”

The Waves are led by arguably the best and most experienced coaching staff in the nation. Matthies, who retired from coaching the indoor game in 2013 after 31 seasons on the sidelines, continues to lead a sand squad which she built from the ground up. She was part of a committee of coaches and AVCA members who campaigned to bring sand volleyball to the NCAA level. Just three seasons in, participation in sand volleyball has grown incrementally since the inaugural year in 2012, and more than 40 schools are expected to field programs this season. Such rapid growth makes sand volleyball the fastest-growing ‘Emerging Sport’ in NCAA history.

Matthies was inducted into the Pepperdine Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013 and was the inaugural winner of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Coach of the Year award.

She’s assisted by Marcio Sicoli, who plays an integral part in training and player development. In addition to his work with the Waves, Sicoli is well known on the professional circuit. He has worked with several of the pros, including Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. Sicoli was the duo’s coach during their run to a third-consecutive Olympic gold medal at the 2012 London Games.

Volunteer assistant coach Jon Daze completes the staff, and his tireless effort receive nothing but praise from Matthies.

“Practice has been fantastic, just unreal,” said Matthies. “We’ve been training hard and everyone is excited to start the season.”

In addition to Racich (Santa Barbara, Calif./Dos Pueblos HS) and Dykstra (Redondo Beach, Calif./Redondo Union HS/Nebraska), returning student-athletes include fifth-year senior Victoria Adelhelm (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif./Santa Fe Christian HS), seniors Emily Cook (Huntington Beach, Calif./Murrieta Valley HS), Kelley Larsen (Jamul, Calif./Christian HS) and Kellie Woolever (Long Beach, Calif./Woodrow Wilson HS), junior Katie Messing (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands HS) and sophomore Taylor Racich (Santa Barbara, Calif./Dos Pueblos HS).

All eight were regulars in last season’s lineup, while five were part of the Waves’ 2012 AVCA National Championship winning squad.

Joining those returners are transfers Becca Strehlow (Long Beach, Calif./Woodrow Wilson HS/UCLA) and Sophie Asprey (Southlake, Texas/Liberty Christian/Tulane), who both possess a year of sand experience and played either No. 1 or No. 2 with their previous schools.

Freshman newcomers include Kendahl Hettick (Encinitas, Calif./San Dieguito Academy), Delaney Knudsen (Valencia, Calif./Valencia HS) and Leanna Schroeder (Westlake, Calif./Oaks Christian HS).

Finally, junior Samantha Cash (San Diego, Calif./Canyon Crest Academy) joins the sand squad after three successful seasons as the Waves’ starting middle blocker.

“We look strong, top to bottom,” continued Matthies. “I believe we possess tremendous depth this season, and everyone can play with everyone. Right now we’ve got about six different pairs that could play No. 1, so as a coaching staff we are just honing in on the best possible lineup.”

Last season Racich and Dykstra held down the No. 2 spot in the Pepperdine lineup with a record of 24-5, including 19-1 in dual play. Racich is the only two-time AVCA All-American active this season and the 2012 AVCA National Pairs Champion.

Larsen and Woolever, aka “Team Kell(i)ey,” were untouchable from their No. 3 spot, going a perfect 20-0 in duals and 27-1 overall.

Other pairings from a year ago include Taylor Racich and Adelhelm (16-3 overall, 14-2 duals) as well as Cook and Messing (15-4, 11-4).

Although there stands a chance that some pairs from last year will be in the lineup once again this season, Matthies promises there will be some new partnerships as well.

The only thing that is certain is that the Waves’ No. 1 team will be different than last season. Lilla Frederick and Kim Hill, undefeated in 2013, were the first two graduates of the sand program.

Still, with eight returning players including seven upperclassmen Pepperdine boasts one of the most experienced squads in the country.

Make your way to Zuma Beach, just west of Point Dume between Lifeguard Towers 2 and 3, to see the Waves in action live. Admission to Pepperdine’s home matches is free. Parking in the county’s owned and operated parking lot runs between $3-10 depending on the day and season. Parking along Pacific Coast Highway is free.

#PURPOSE – Pepperdine Athletics officially launched its “Competing with Purpose” campaign during Waves Weekend. The campaign highlights the commitment to our core values that student-athletes, coaches and staff dedicate themselves to daily. Competing with Purpose provides the foundation on which champions are built.

LOOKING AHEAD - Pepperdine heads to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. for the USAVBeach Collegiate Challenge on March 14-15 ... Day one will consist of dual play vs. Cal State Bakersfield, #5 Hawaii and Grand Canyon ... Following dual play, a pairs championship will be contested late Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

ZUMA BEACH - The Waves call Zuma Beach “home,” practicing and hosting all home events at one of Malibu’s most picturesque locations. Courts are located just west of Point Dume, between Towers 2 & 3 or at the 29800 block of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Nina Matthies - Nina Matthies’ retired from coaching the indoor game following the 2013 season and finishes her 31-season run with a career record of 590-343 (.632). In the span, Matthies led the Waves to 10 conference championships and 20 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. In 2013, she was honored by her peers as the inaugural winner of the AVCA Sand Volleyball Coach of the Year award.

Marcio Sicoli - Marcio Sicoli is in his third season assisting Matthies in the sand after just completing his sixth and final season on the sidelines for the indoor team. Sicoli is highly lauded for his approach to training and served as head coach for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings during their gold-medal run at the 2012 London Olympics. Sicoli also served as the assistant coach for the Brazilian Olympic Women’s Beach Volleyball Team from 2000 to 2004. In 2004, his team of Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede took home the silver medal in Athens.

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.

SAND VOLLEYBALL HISTORY - The Pepperdine women’s sand volleyball program has been at the forefront of the sport since it was introduced in 2012. The Waves went a perfect 14-0 in dual match play and won the inaugural AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Team Championship in Gulf Shores, Ala. Pepperdine’s Caitlin Racich -- the program’s first-ever scholarship recipient -- and partner Summer Ross took home the pairs national crown as well. In 2013, the Waves marched back to the national title match but fell 3-2 while playing shorthanded. The Waves boast a nation-best eight AVCA All-Americans: Lara Dykstra (2013), Lilla Frederick (2012, 13), Kim Hill (2012, 13), Racich (2012, 13) and Ross (2012). Hill stands as the first, and to date only, student-athlete to earn AVCA All-American first team honors in both indoor and sand volleyball in a single 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 undergraduate enrollment and is the only school not affiliated with a BCS-level conference. The Waves have earned the Division I-AAA All-Sports Trophy, an award based on postseason success that’s given to the top non-football school, three times (most recently in 2011-12). 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. Pepperdine, which is affiliated with the Church of Christ, ranks #57 overall on U.S. News and World Report’s list of America’s best colleges.



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