The AVCA Collegiate Beach Volleyball preseason poll came out Monday and, to no one’s surprise, defending-champion USC is No. 1.
But right behind at No. 2 is Pepperdine, the showcase team in the West Coast Conference. Another WCC team, Loyola Marymount, came in at No. 20, the last team in the poll.
Click here for the complete AVCA poll. Accordingly, the NCAA beach season begins later this week and VolleyballMag.com will preview all the conferences, beginning with the WCC.
Pepperdine, which lost to USC in last May’s NCAA Championship final match, has far and away been the most successful program in the conference. The Waves won two AVCA national championships before the NCAA began hosting the postseason in 2016, and in the six years since the start of NCAA beach volleyball, Pepperdine has produced 18 All-Americans.
What’s more, 2018 will mark the end of a legendary career for Pepperdine’s Nina Matthies.
In 2018, Pepperdine once again looks dangerous, but you can’t count out Saint Mary’s, which features the only pair to defeat USC’s No. 1 pair of Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes last season, and Loyola Marymount, which will field its deepest and most talented roster to date.
In addition to those three, four other schools in the conference field a beach volleyball team: Santa Clara, Portland, San Francisco and Pacific.
Outlook: The Lions will be without last season’s star player, Sarah Sponcil, who transferred to UCLA, as well as the graduated Erin Williams and Brittany Estes, but coach John Mayer is feeling good about his 2018 squad. The returners include reigning WCC freshman of the year Savannah Slattery (who played with Sponcil at the No. 1 spot last year), Emma Doud, Sara Kovac, Jessie Prichard, and Veronica Nederend. Mayer adds three freshmen and four graduate transfers to the mix.
“We are really excited about the season ahead as we have the deepest and most talented group we’ve had yet as a program,” Mayer said. “The girls have committed to learning each day and are eager to get out and compete this season.”
Outlook: Picked fourth in the WCC preseason coaches poll, Pacific takes the sand in 2018 with returners Andie Shelton (who was selected to the preseason All-WCC Team), Katrin Gotterba, Maycie LaBass, Taylor Poncetta, Alex Holt, Emily Baptista, Ashlyn Fleming and Skylar Wine. Freshman Kaitlyn Lines hails from Arizona, while her classmate Hanne De Schrijver comes to Pacific from Belgium.
In 2017, Shelton competed at the No.1 spot, going 6-18 and earning a spot on the All-WCC first team. Emily Baptista was named to the 2017 WCC all-freshman team.
“Our team is working extremely hard and continue to get better and better every day,” coach Greg Gibbons said. “We are very competitive and the girls are constantly pushing themselves to their limits in the weight room and on the beach courts and continue to blend and grow with their partners.”
Outlook: Pepperdine graduated Delaney Knudsen and Brittany Howard, who last year played at the No. 1 and No. 2 spot, respectively, and were key leaders in the Waves’ run to the national-championship match. Key returners include Madalyn Roh and Corinne Quiggle, as well as last year’s No. 3 pair Skylar Caputo and Heidi Dyer. The four freshmen newcomers are Shannon Murphy, Brook Bauer, Alexis Filippone and Katie Gavin.
Many of the conference’s coaches cited Pepperdine at the team to beat in the WCC once again, but for the Waves’ Nina Matthies, who announced that she will be retiring at the end of the 2018 season, it’s more of a one-match-at-a-time approach. Her outlook for the season is simply “to win every match that we can.”
Outlook: A freshman class of six athletes is led by Hawaii natives Carey Williams and Kassidy Naone. Cali Thompson and Tani Stephens earned All-WCC honors in 2017, and they lead a group of returners that also includes seniors Morgan Robinson and Hannah Troutman and redshirt sophomore Katie Barker.
“We are looking forward to building off of the improvements we made last season,” coach Jeff Baxter said. “We have a lot of exciting new talent joining our program this season, as well as returning a large portion from last year’s team.”
Saint Mary’s (CA)
Outlook: Honorable-mention All-Americans Lindsey Knudsen and Payton Rund went 24-5 in 2017 and both are back to lead the charge in 2018. The graduation of Alexis Salmons marks the only significant loss for Saint Mary’s, which brings in key transfer Morgan Hughes and accomplished freshman Morgan Kendrick. Hughes led the Gaels indoor team with a .320 hitting percentage in the fall.
“Our beach team is made up of our indoor team, but I know we can compete with just about any team out there,” coach Rob Browning said. “I am excited to see our players who didn’t play beach much before coming here, but now have a couple of years under their belts, take a leap up to another level.”
Outlook: The Dons of USF went winless in 2017, but they enter 2018 with new head coach Frank Lavrisha, who took over the indoor and beach programs when Vicki Brown left for an associate head coach position at Iowa. There are also six freshmen, including Pi’ikea Clemens, Anna Dalla Vecchia and Erica Ronda. Graduate-transfer Sabrina Blackwell comes to USF from Cal, where she was a DS on the indoor team and a member of the beach squad, and Julia Topor makes her beach debut after graduating from Boston College.
“After so many years inside the gym, it’s refreshing and fun for me to be outside,” Lavrisha said. “There is a competitive quality about doubles that’s absolutely invigorating. You have no place to hide.”
Outlook: Santa Clara coach Jon Wallace admitted that the graduation of Nikki Hess and Jensen Cunningham, who played in the No. 1 and No. 2 flights, respectively, will be a challenge for his team to overcome, but as a whole, his pairs have gotten better. Returners Kirsten Mead, Allison Kantor, Hailey Lindberg, Tatiana San Juan are joined by freshman Chloe Loreen and sophomores Taylor Odom, Anna McCreadie and Tessie Powers.
“Overall, our understanding of concepts on the sand are deeper and better than a year ago,” Wallace said. “We just need time to get experience in matches. We’ll be playing our best in April.”