Fifth-year senior Joshua McCarthy follows through with an iron. McCarthy is another Pepperdine golfer and graduate who decided to return to Malibu to use an additional year of eligibility. File photo
As senior student-athletes announced they would return to Pepperdine post-graduation, a domino effect began. At least 10 Waves decided to come back to Malibu after seeing their peers make the same decision.
After Ashley Lahey — the nation’s top collegiate tennis player in 2019–20 — announced April 8 she would return for a fifth year, other Waves across spring sports followed suit, electing to use another season of eligibility rather than allow their Pepp careers to end on the sour note of COVID-19.
“I love the Pepperdine community and my coaches and teammates,” Lahey wrote in an email. “Being at Pepperdine helps me grow as a student, tennis player and person, so when I was offered another year of eligibility, I gladly accepted.”
Ashley Lahey, Women’s Tennis
Lahey led the pack of Wave athletes who would return for another season after COVID-19 cut multiple spring season sports short.
Since making the decision to return for another season, Lahey wrote that she spent the first month of quarantine resting. Since then, she wrote that she has been training almost full time.
“I love tennis, and training makes me happy,” Lahey wrote. “I don’t see it as something that I need to do but rather something I want to do.”
While teammate Jessica Failla has played in several tournaments since spring season ended, Lahey wrote that she hasn’t had the opportunity to compete since leaving school, including the professional tournaments she was eligible to play.
To fulfill the NCAA academic requirement for eligibility, Lahey will not be taking classes in the fall but plans to continue her academic career in the spring.
“I just need to take Humanities 3 when I come back in the spring, but I will likely also take [Organic Chemistry] 2, as some medical schools require it,” Lahey wrote.
Lahey wrote that the West Coast Conference fall season postponement worries her to a certain degree but that she is ready to accept what the future has in store for her tennis career.
“I’m ready to move on if the season gets canceled,” Lahey wrote. “I’m just as excited by the prospect of going out into the ‘real world’ and wearing my metaphorical Pepperdine jersey as I am about going back and competing for my school for one more semester. Whatever happens, I will be at peace with it. I would love another season, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get it.”
Justin Lutes, Baseball
For fifth-year senior Justin Lutes, ending his baseball career because of the pandemic was not an option.
Echoing teammate Michael Mahony’s sentiments, Lutes said his decision to come back was not only grounded in earning his degree but continuing the team’s momentum.
“We had something special last year,” Lutes said. “The fact that we weren’t able to see that through kind of bothered me, and I really wanted to see what could have been.”
Lutes said the team’s chemistry last season has been special compared to his experience in previous seasons. He said that through his return, he hopes to inspire the younger players and continue the special bond the team had last spring.
“I feel like this [last] year, everybody pulled on the same side of the rope,” Lutes said. “We all pushed for each other, and we wanted each other to succeed. We just felt that if everyone bought into the program and wanted to make each other better and create positive energy, we would develop a culture that’s beneficial for everyone.”
The drastic end to the fall season did not deter Lutes from continuing to train as if he were in season.
“I try to follow the same regime we had during the season,” Lutes said. “I’ve been trying to work out five to six times a week and try to maintain a proper diet while I’m out here [in Las Vegas].”
While Lutes aspires to go to the draft after playing collegiate baseball, he said he ultimately wants to see the team succeed during his time as a Wave.
“The only thing I wake up and truly care about, especially for this program, is to see them win, because they gave me such a big opportunity,” Lutes said. “I feel that they took a chance on me when others probably wouldn’t have, and the fact that I’m even able to go to this school today still makes me tear up about it every now and then.”
Joshua McCarthy, Men’s Golf
Fifth-year senior Joshua McCarthy is ranked ninth in Waves’ Golf scoring average history with no intention of slowing down.
For the first time in Pepperdine’s history, both Golfstat and Golfweek/Bushnell polls ranked the Waves No. 1 in 2020. The Waves looked to continue their winning streak until their season was cut short in early March.
Once the NCAA announced athletes were allowed to compete for another season, McCarthy said he took on a double major in Sports Administration and Communication to remain eligible to compete as a Wave one last time.
“I want to play professional golf, and it made a lot of sense having that extra year to come back, play golf and also finish getting my degree,” McCarthy said.
As one of the only three Waves to play in three NCAA Championships, McCarthy said he’s optimistic he will be able to compete in a fourth.
“I think our goal is to win a national championship,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s been a real goal ever since we got that No. 1 ranking last year.”
New protocols such as reducing touchpoints, keeping scorekeeping online and filling out tournament information on cellphones has allowed McCarthy to continue to compete throughout the summer.
“It’s pretty weird to be in a competition and be on your phone,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he hopes playing another collegiate season will allow him to get more exposure to play professionally after graduating.
“There’s a college ranking that they started this year called the PGA Tour University,” McCarthy said. “It’s kind of like a draft, if you will, into the professional levels of golf, and top 15 get sort of priority into the next level. I’d love to be [in] the top 15 graduating seniors.”
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