NCAA volleyball: WMU thumps Auburn as No. 7 seeds lose; no major upsets as tourney begins
December 1, 2023
August 11, 2022
Emma Ammerman was on her first trip to Europe.
Not surprising was that it was for volleyball.
And certainly not surprising that it would start in Maribor, Slovenia.
Ammerman is a 6-foot-3 junior right side at Pepperdine and happens to be the sixth of eight kids from her volleyball-intensive family in Parker, Colorado.
Every one of her five older siblings played volleyball, four professionally. Her dad, Brett, played basketball and club volleyball at Purdue and her mom, Maria, played volleyball at Alaska-Anchorage.
Last month, Ammerman got to play in the Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia. First, though, her team met up in Maribor. Slovenia, just north of Croatia.
Now would be a good time to go over the Ammerman family roster.
Ryan played at UC Irvine, which won the 2007 and 2009 NCAA titles, then played pro, was on the national team, and just joined the Anteaters men’s program as an assistant.
Sarah was an All-American at Texas A&M and then had a longtime pro career, the bulk of it in Maribor.
Dalton was a standout at Long Beach State and also played pro.
Luke, Dalton’s twin, played at Orange Coast Community College.
Hannah Ammerman is a 6-3 senior outside/right side at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs.Â
Then there’s Emma, followed by brother Sebastian, who has Down’s syndrome and proudly just graduated high school, and 15-year-old Mary.Â
Mary has been coached by Ryan (remember him? He’s the oldest), who also coached Emma in club at Front Range.
So there Emma was in July, seeing Slovenia for the first time. The sports administration major really enjoyed the practice days and getting to explore Maribor.
“My family is so big and we were so little (when Sarah played there). I remember being in like the fourth grade and it was like, ‘My sister lives in Slovenia.’ But my parents never could come over to see them. It was so fun to be there.”
When she played in Slovenia, Sarah’s agent was Cory Solomon, one of the founders of Bring It Promotions, which not only puts on the annual Global Challenge, but runs tours of Europe for college teams.Â
After Sarah’s volleyball career ended, she stayed and led tours for Bring It and that’s where the plot thickens.Â
In 2017, she was leading a summer tour in Slovenia for BIP. One week Sarah had, interestingly, Pepperdine. The next week she was the host for Washington and met coach Keegan Cook. They married in 2020 and this past December had a baby boy, Oliver. Emma’s cell phone features a photo of her holding Oliver.
So when Solomon asked Emma if she wanted to play in the Global Challenge, she said, “of course. I always wanted to see the place (Sarah) lived. I love to play volleyball and travel and be in a challenging, unique situation.”
You’ve got to give her credit for that because she flew solo to Paris. She met her new teammate, Julia Haynie, a middle at San Diego State who is from Temecula, California, in Paris for their connecting flight.
Later, of course, she met all her teammates and, as you would expect, they bonded and ultimately played very well.
“It’s really fun to combine the experience of traveling in Europe with the playing,” Ammerman said. “Yesterday we jumped off cliffs and then this morning we had to play a really tough match (and won). It’s really fun to do both things at the same time.
“My teammates are awesome. We didn’t know a single thing about each other a week ago and now we’re all best friends. We eat every meal together and want to hang out together. And the coaching has been so cool. I think to get coached by different people and see different coaching styles is great.”
The team was coached by Mick Haley, the former Texas, USC and 2000 USA Olympic coach, and he was assisted by Illinois Springfield head coach Kamille Jones and a British coach, Alex Chinery. Their team won the GC U23 title with a roster that included Utah’s Madelyn Robinson (who was named tourney MVP), UT Arlington’s Brianna Ford, Grand Canyon’s Annabelle Kubinski and Abby Tadder of Virginia.
American college players from other teams included Erica Staunton of Northeastern, Crew Hoffmeir of VCU, Maggie Hembree of Tulsa, Julia Sangiacomo of Santa Clara and Madeline Cardenas of The Citadel. All were there to experience international play with some doing so with an eye on hoping to be seen by pro teams for after their college careers end.
“Emma, from my experience working with her, has an upside at Pepperdine,” Haley said. “She played on the right for us. She’s really coachable and she’s really focused on being good. She can be a right-side player or a left-side player. We were going to try her on the left side but as it turned out other players were a little more capable there and she provided a force for us on the right side and was a big block.Â
“She helped a great deal with us winning the championship. I’m anxious to follow her in college because I think she’ll do well this year for Pepperdine.”
Pepperdine should be pretty stout this season, returning almost its entire team that went to the NCAA Tournament in 2021. That includes outside Rachel Ahrens, who led with 513 kills (4.89/set), sophomore outside Grace Chillingsworth (315 kills), junior middle Meg Brown (220 kills, 81 blocks, 26 aces) and Ammerman (199 kills, 45 blocks). Also back is senior setter Isabel Zelaya (10.79 assists/set, 58 blocks). The only really big loss was standout libero Madison Shields, who also played on court No. 1 in beach. She will finish her career on the beach at USC.
The Waves finished 22-6 last season, 14-4 in the West Coast Conference, losing twice to BYU, once to San Diego and to Pacific in five.
In the NCAA Tournament, the Waves lost to Central Florida in four in a shootout between UCF’s McKenna Miller, who had 25 kills and 18 digs, and Ahrens, who had 29 kills, an ace, a solo block and seven digs. Ahrens, a 6-4 graduate-student, was a VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American.
Ammerman played almost every position throughout her club and high school career. When she was deciding on college, it came down to Colorado State and Pepperdine and she said she really wanted a change.Â
“I wanted to see what was out there. I’ve been in Colorado my whole life and a lot of my extended family lives there as well. My brothers all went to Southern California for college, so I thought that would be pretty cool to follow them. When I visited Pepperdine it was kind of an easy choice.”
Veteran coach Scott Wong had nothing but praise for Ammerman.Â
“I gave each player a word or two that describes them,” Wong said, “and for Emma it was ‘intentional improver.’ She’s just so intentional with how she goes about life, how she spends time devoted to how she can be a better volleyball player, how she can recover better, how she can visualize, how she can improve her flexibility. It’s crazy what she does with the purpose of being a volleyball player.Â
“I think it’s rare. I think it’s rare that players try to be the best they can be. This is volleyball and she cares a lot about volleyball, but she’s a young lady who’s great to be around, really mature, and has a depth to her that has trickled over to a lot of our players in terms of her approach to life in general.”
It wasn’t lost on Ammerman that while she was in Europe her teammates were working out in Malibu, but on their own.Â
“I’m very happy to be getting game touches,” she said in Pula. “At home they’re just doing open gyms and the captains are leading because they’re not allowed (by the NCAA) to be coached right now. I feel like I have an advantage here, getting the chance to play against really good international players and seeing a different style of volleyball.”
Pepperdine opens the season August 26 at Nebraska where it plays Tulsa, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and the Huskers.
The Waves are home the second weekend for Baylor, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State.Â
Then the Ammerman sisters will get together when Pepperdine plays at Washington against Cal Poly, Washington and Northwestern before the Waves finish a pretty tough non-conference schedule at Minnesota against Minnesota and Washington State.
The West Coast Conference is annual battle for the top between the Waves, BYU and San Diego.