Last Saturday, the LMU beach volleyball team (27- 11) defeated the top-seeded Pepperdine Waves in the West Coast Conference (WCC) Championships, claiming LMU’s first ever WCC title for beach volleyball. The Lions beat Pepperdine twice to capture the conference championship, with the first win against the Waves being the first victory against Pepperdine in program history.
The Lions came into the tournament not being favored to win, with Pepperdine holding the top seed in the championships and a No. 6 ranking in the nation, compared to LMU’s No. 11 national ranking.
LMU started the WCC championships going 2-0 on Friday, sweeping Pacific 5-0 and defeating Saint Mary’s 4-1. The Lions would go on to face the Waves three times in the conference championships on Saturday, losing the first match to Pepperdine in a close 3-2 affair.
The Lions then had to go against Saint Mary’s once more, breezing to another 4-1 win before taking on Pepperdine in a rematch in the next round. The Lions' historic 3-1 first win over Pepperdine set up a rematch in the finals for the title of WCC Champion against the rival Waves.
In a close match, the Lions, led by winning pairs senior Sara Kovac and sophomore Jessie Prichard, graduate student Megan Nash and sophomore Reka Orsi Toth, and senior Veronica Nederend and junior Emma Doud, came out with a 3-2 championship-clinching victory. Nederend and Doud were the pair to secure the win for the Lions in the decisive fifth, capturing the Lions' historic first conference championship.
For many of the Lions, this championship has been long in the making, with their ultimate goals from the beginning of the season being realized on Saturday. With the team excited over their first championship, there is also optimism for future success of the program.
“This championship means more to me than just a [championship] ring,” said junior Savannah Slattery. “It stands for all the hard work we have put in on and off the court ... This is only the start.”
Coming into this season, the Lions were called “the best team ever” by head coach John Mayer, in comparison to past beach volleyball teams that he had coached at LMU. The Lions backed up his high praise by making history for the program with this being Mayer’s first WCC championship as a collegiate head coach. Mayer, a former professional beach volleyball player himself, was impressed by the performance the team put up over the weekend and noted what the team did right to claim the championship.
“It took a lot of preparation. The way [the] girls started preparing way back in the fall ... took a lot of focus and grit. In that [last match], I never saw anyone show body language like they were fatigued, even though I knew they were,” said Mayer. “They just continued to go point-by-point and play really good volleyball. I was really blown away by how the girls competed all day.”
By helping them develop into better players and get a grasp on a winning mentality, Mayer and the rest of the coaching staff have gotten the team to achieve the highest honor in the WCC. He saw how the team improved from the start of the season to now, noting that the team used to play safer and feel the pressure that they overcame in the championship.
“We made lots of mistakes and we made lots of errors, but that didn’t seem to affect us. It looked like when the pressure was on—which, [the] pressure is always on—we were playing to win. We wanted to make the plays [and] we wanted to be the more aggressive team ... When you start to do that, you earn the right to be confident.”
The players praised the coaching staff highly, with Prichard mentioning the gratitude the team has toward the coaches on the team.
“As a team, we are so incredibly thankful for our coaches and give them all the credit for our victories,” said Prichard.
The players also attributed their success this season to their team chemistry, in addition to their intensive training. Their hard work, strong chemistry and championship mentality were factors that Slattery believes contributed to the team’s ability to make history for LMU.
“We might have been training hard every single day physically, but we also took the time to build chemistry, and I have never felt as close to all the girls as I do this year,” said Slattery. “The difference of this year from the last is [that] I truly believe that everyone believed we could win and trusted that we put in the work. We deserved this title.”
The close connection that the players have with each other was a big reason why this team was the one to achieve history for LMU. Prichard saw how they pushed each other in practice constantly, which allowed them to reach heights surpassing every LMU beach volleyball team before them.
“Our LMU beach volleyball team is a family, and we are constantly pushed to be the best versions of ourselves,” said Prichard. “In this kind of environment, winning championships feels rightfully deserved.”