2012 Women's Volleyball Season Outlook
Pepperdine looks to defend its West Coast Conference title in 2012 with eight returning players and five newcomers.
The 2011 women's volleyball team reached the NCAA Regional Finals and ended the season ranked No. 6 in the AVCA Coaches Poll after winning the WCC championship with a near-perfect 15-1 record. Overall, the Waves finished the year with a 25-7 record.
"After a week of practice, I'm really pleased with how we look," said Nina Matthies, who celebrates her 30th season as head coach at Pepperdine. "Everyone, all 13 student-athletes, are in tremendous physical shape and they are ready to go."
The Waves had a lot more to celebrate in 2011-12, in addition to their postseason run in indoor volleyball. Pepperdine handily won the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship back in April, and concluded the inaugural season with an untainted 14-0 record. Assistant coach Marcio Sicoli enjoyed success on the Olympic stage, tutoring Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings to an unprecedented third gold medal.
2011 AVCA All-American honorable mention Kellie Woolever (Long Beach, Calif./Woodrow Wilson), who Matthies calls "one of the best setters in the country," is back for her junior campaign, as well as 2011 WCC Freshman of the Year Samantha Cash (San Diego, Calif./Canyon Crest Academy).
The Waves lead all conference schools with an AVCA preseason ranking of No. 11 - the highest preseason rank they have received since 2004. San Diego follows at No. 19, while Saint Mary's and BYU both are receiving votes.
In the WCC Preseason Coaches Poll, Pepperdine was picked to finish third with 53 points and one first-place vote. San Diego and Saint Mary's tied for first with 59 points and four first-place votes each.
BYU was picked to finish fourth, followed by San Francisco, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, Portland and Gonzaga.
Both Woolever and Cash were voted to the 10-player All-WCC preseason squad.
"We try not to focus on rankings and opinions," stated Matthies. "We still need to go out there, perform well and win. We are going to be tested early, and will know where we stand almost right away."
In addition to Woolever, the Waves will look to lone senior Victoria Adelhelm (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif./Santa Fe Christian) and junior Emily Cook (Huntington Beach, Calif./Murrieta Valley Christian HS) for leadership.
"They have all stepped up as leaders and have really taken a lot of pride and ownership with this team," praised Matthies. "They've set a great example, put in the work and it truly shows."
"The sophomores have all come back stronger, both mentally and physically," Matthies said. "Training in the sand has helped, even for the players who didn't play in any matches last spring.
"The freshmen are physically strong and their skills are sharp having all come from high-level club teams. Their biggest adjustment right now is learning our system and understanding what is being asked of them. So far, I am impressed with what they've brought to practice."
Pepperdine opens the season in Dayton, Ohio at the Flyer Classic on Aug. 24-25 where the team faces Ohio, Dayton (receiving votes) and Illinois (#7 and 2011 NCAA runner-up).
Continued Matthies: "I'm very excited about our preconference schedule this year. It is one of the toughest we have ever put together and is going to prepare us the West Coast Conference portion of the season."
Other huge tests on the preconference schedule include #1 and defending NCAA champion UCLA (Sept. 12), #12 Florida State (Sept. 14), #24 Ohio State (Sept. 14) and #25 Colorado State (Sept. 7).
The Waves open WCC play at BYU, picked to finish fourth in the league, on Sept. 20.| "The constant goal is to win the West Coast Conference," said Matthies. "We saw how that can help in the NCAA Tournament with the seeding and with team confidence.
"We want to continue to build upon last year and not drop from where we were. With the group we have in the gym this year, I believe we aren't going to skip a beat."
Woolever will once again quarterback the Waves' offense in 2012. She was awarded AVCA All-American honorable mention honors as a sophomore in 2011 and was also named to the All-WCC first team. Last season Woolever ranked 26th in the NCAA and first in the WCC with 11.22 assists/set.
"Kellie possesses great decision-making skills, has come into training strong and we are looking for her to have an All-American season," stated Matthies.
"Not only is she playing well offensively, but she's playing great defense too. Playing sand volleyball helped with that a lot."
Woolever averaged 3.11 digs/set in indoor volleyball last year. During the inaugural sand volleyball season during the spring of 2012, she held down the No. 4 spot in the lineup, along with Adelhelm, with a 21-5 record.
The duo went a 2-0 at the AVCA Championships to help lift Pepperdine to the national title.
The Waves are extremely deep in the middle this season, with returning starters Cash and Adelhelm, both standing 6-foot-3, and the addition of freshmen Matalee Reed (Dallas, Texas/Lake Highlands HS) and Alyssa Mason (Redlands, Calif./Redlands East Valley HS).
"Sam hasn't skipped a beat from last season," Matthies went on. "She's a beast, no other way to put it, and she brings enthusiasm and her special spark to practice every single day.
"Victoria is our seasoned veteran this year and has always been a solid player for us. She and Sam are going to be a hard combo to beat."
Collectively, the duo averaged 3.93 kills/set and 2.22 blocks/set.
Adelhelm already ranks ninth in the Pepperdine career record books with 323 total blocks and is on track to reach as high as No. 2 all time.
Cash was just two blocks shy of setting the Waves' rally scoring era record for number of blocks in a single season with a 142 in 2011. As a freshman, she posted an average of 1.18 blocks/set, which paced Pepperdine and ranked second in the WCC.
Waiting in the wings will be Reed and Mason, who both come to Malibu after successful high school careers.
Reed, listed at 6-foot-2, led her school to a 5A Region II District 9 record of 54-0 in her four years on the varsity squad. The Dallas native finished high school with 1,490 kills, 267 blocks and 635 digs.
Six-foot-three Mason is a 2011-12 Under Armour Girls' High School Honorable Mention All-American and a three-time All-CIF Southern Section honoree.
"Matalee is very quick compared to other middle blockers, and has a fast arm," said Matthies, "and Alyssa is a giant out there. She's versatile and could play on the left and right side too."
The Waves have six outside hitters, all capable of playing on the left and right sides, listed on the roster this season. According to Matthies the battle for the starting spots is "wide open."
"We have a lot of talented, capable outside hitters this year," Matthies stated, "Each one brings something different to the table so we could see a lot of different combinations on the floor this season."
Sophomore Katie Messing (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands HS), a member of the 2011 WCC All-Freshman team, was a starter last year and at 6-foot-4, is the tallest member of Waves' squad. She ranked third on the team a year ago with a 2.29 kills/set average.
Other players in contention for the starting role include Cook, Kelley Larsen (Jamul, Calif./Christian HS), Lexi Weldon (Tallahassee, Fla./Chiles HS), transfer Jazmine Orozco (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood HS/Illinois) and freshman Taylor Racich (Santa Barbara, Calif./Dos Pueblos HS).
Cook, a junior in 2012, started on the outside as a freshman and produced 2.72 kills/set but saw limited time as a sophomore after struggling with injury. Larsen was also hindered with injury issues, but returned full force last spring when she was a key member of the national championship-winning Pepperdine sand volleyball team.
"Emily and Kelley are both back and healthy," said Matthies. "Emily has really taken charge, put in the work in the weight room and has come to practice stronger than ever.
"Kelley really learned a lot sitting last season after being sidelined with an injury. She's realized how much she wants to be out there. She put in the work and is also mentally ready to be back on the floor. She's a strong passer and possesses tremendous ball control.
"Lexi is also back after dealing with an injury," Matthies commented. "She's an all-around great athlete."
Racich, a southpaw who played on the right side in high school, could fill the void left by Hill, who spent three seasons at her opposite side post. She was ranked #63 on prepvolleyball.com's "Senior Aces" list, and comes from a family of athletes. Her twin sister is a member of the Azusa Pacific volleyball team, while older sister Caitlin came back to Pepperdine with both the team and pairs title at the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship last spring. Racich also has one older brother, Chase, who plays water polo at UC Santa Barbara.
"Taylor has one of the quickest arms I have seen in a long time," boasted Matthies of the freshman. "She's got a great attitude, is a talented blocker and could play either on the left or right side for us."
Orozco, who transferred from 2011 NCAA runner-up Illinois after two seasons with the Illini, adds experience, maturity and depth to the position.
"Jaz is a phenomenal team player. She's a tremendous blocker and has a quick arm. She should make an impact on the team right away," Matthies said.
Michaela Christiaansen (Tucson, Ariz./Ironwood Ridge HS) is expected to be elevated to the starting libero position, after primarily serving as a defensive specialist last season. She began the 2011 season as the starting libero while Robinson recovered from injury, and spent the remainder of the year playing in the back row for Messing as a defensive specialist. She averaged 2.22 digs/set in 2011 and was named to the WCC All-Freshman team.
"Michaela has taken the role of full time libero very seriously," Matthies mentioned. "She has eagerly taken on a bigger load, worked hard and has come in to practice very strong."
The Waves' can also expect defensive support from Natalie Riddering (Sacramento, Calif./El Camino Fundamental HS), who was a three-time Capital Athletic League MVP in high school.
"Natalie is a worker," continued Matthies. "She's got solid ball control and is just an all-around sound defensive player.
"These two (Michaela and Natalie) are having fun competing with each other."