Photo collage by Kaelin Mendez
The final year of collegiate athletics can be bittersweet, especially for senior athletes entering their final competitive season.
Five seniors from the five Pepperdine fall sports teams expressed similar underlying sentiments: leave it all out on the field — or pool, court or course.
Hana Lishman, Women’s Volleyball
When Scott Wong took the job as the Head Coach of Pepperdine Women’s Volleyball in 2014 after five seasons as an associate coach at the University of Hawaiʻi, he brought a young recruit from Oahu with him to Malibu.
The recruit, Hana Lishman from Kailua, played libero in every set for the Waves as a freshman in 2016. That team finished just 13-17.
Since then, Wong and Lishman have seen the program grow to a 22-9 team, West Coast Conference (WCC) contender and NCAA Tournament team in 2018.
“Every year, we’ve had great incoming freshmen or even transfers that help build the foundation and set the culture here,” Lishman said. “It’s just super cool to see [the team] every year growing closer and closer together.”
Lishman has been the leader of the backcourt throughout her career as a Wave, aiming “to control the backcourt and the passing” and “be really consistent with our defense.”
Now, she and fellow senior returners Tarah Wylie, middle blocker, and Hannah Frohling, outside hitter, join forces as the de facto leaders of a team looking to build on its recent success.
“It’s kind of cool – being a senior now, having that three years under my belt, and being able to take [new players] under my wing … and set that standard for them,”
Lishman also has some extra knowledge to share with her teammates in 2019 after earning a place on the roster of the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team this summer.
The rigorous program while training at the USA Volleyball National Team Center in Anaheim was a valuable experience for her.
“We had two practices a day,” Lishman said. “In the morning sessions, we’d have a video and film — kind of a classroom session. And then, [in the] afternoon, we’d also have another practice. It was a lot of volleyball, but it was super cool to be next to the actual senior national team to watch their practice.”
Now that she and her fellow Waves have endured their own “double days” of practices prior to the start of school, the team turns its attention to its season-opening tournament in Denton, Texas, beginning Aug. 30.
All-WCC setter Blossom Sato graduated, but she remained in Malibu as a volunteer assistant coach, and the other core members of the 2018 team are returning.
“We’re just excited to get after it this season and then go even further in the [NCAA] Tournament,” Lishman said. “That’s our team goal … to do well in our conference and win, and also to go further in the tournament.”
As Lishman rewrites the Pepperdine record books – she is third in career digs – during her final season, her focus will not be on the numbers.
“Personally, [the goal is] to just leave it out there on the court,” Lishman said. “It’s [my] last season, senior year, kind of sad … everything just flew by so quickly, but [the goal is] leaving it all out there and really enjoying the season and soaking it all in.”
Chris Dilworth, Men’s Water Polo
The reigning male Wave of the Year is back for a fifth year with Pepperdine Water Polo.
Having missed the entire 2016 season with torn hip labra, Chris Dilworth said he had no doubt that he wanted to remain with his teammates for another run.
“Pepperdine Water Polo [is a] family,” Dilworth said. “That word, family, really is a good description of our team. I’ve gotten the opportunity to work and play with so many different guys from different backgrounds who are from all over the world, and I get the opportunity to call each and every one of those guys my brothers.”
Dilworth, an imposing figure at 6 feet 4 inches and 250 pounds, was recognized as one of the most spirited and beloved figures in the athletic department by his fellow student-athletes at the 2019 Pepp ESPY awards in April.
“[The Wave of the Year award] meant a lot … I didn’t expect it at all, it came as a shock,” Dilworth said. “I don’t really do things for recognition … I just try to be a good person.”
Dilworth, the team’s center who hails from nearby Thousand Oaks, also earned All-American honors after a stellar 2018 season in which he scored 51 goals on 96 shots.
However, he said he has no intention of seeking a repeat of the honor in 2019.
“I personally don’t have any personal accolades, or anything like that, that I want to accomplish,” Dilworth said. “The things that I’m really focusing on this year are having the most fun I can possibly have, enjoying the time with my guys, playing water polo, being in there every single day and just making the most out of this experience that I can.”
As for his team, Dilworth has high expectations.
The 2018 Waves Water Polo squad had compiled a solid campaign, only for the Woolsey Fire to derail their chances. The fire caused the Golden Coast Conference (GCC) to move its championship tournament from Malibu to Long Beach, and Pepperdine fell to Long Beach State in the semifinals.
This year, the GCC Tournament will return to Malibu.
“Everybody’s ready to win that GCC title,” Dilworth said. “And we feel that we can, especially with it being at our home pool. I think that we have a phenomenal chance at winning that GCC title and moving on into the NCAA Tournament.”
Dilworth cited the team’s balance of young freshmen and older, experienced players as a strength.
“I’m really just trying to help out the younger guys … as much as I can and show them the right way to do things … both in and out of the water,” he said. “Everybody is super motivated. This summer, we’ve had one of the best summer trainings that I’ve ever been a part of here.”
Ultimately, the Rhetoric and Leadership major summarized his goals for his final year in two sentences.
“I just want to want to have fun and improve internally,” Dilworth said. “And if I can help the people around me improve as well, I’ll be happy.”
Hailey Stenberg, Women’s Soccer
A consistent presence on one of the most consistently successful programs at Pepperdine, Hailey Stenberg is eager to embrace any role that her team may need.
“This year, it looks like I’m going to be playing midfield,” said Stenberg, who has played midfield and forward in the 58 games that she has appeared in as a Wave over the past three years. “I’m just really excited to help out the team in any way I can.”
Stenberg made her 28th career start Thursday against the University of California, Riverside, as Pepperdine Women’s Soccer began its 27th season of existence. In that time, the program has 20 winning seasons.
According to the Huntington Beach native, playing soccer at Pepperdine “has been, honestly, such a great journey.” She added, “I have learned more about myself [than] I think I could have ever imagined if I wasn’t in this program or at this school.”
As her final season begins and she looks ahead to putting her degree in Media Production to good use, Stenberg’s plan on the field is simple.
“My personal goals [are] just enjoying one last year of soccer and just leaving with no regrets,” Stenberg said.
With six goals and six assists in three years, Stenberg doesn’t put up massive numbers, but her calm presence will provide stability for a team that lost several key figures from an 11-win 2018 roster.
Two graduating seniors, Michelle Maemone and Hailey Harbison, entered the National Women’s Soccer League. Defending WCC Goalkeeper of the Year Brielle Preece also graduated.
“It is a young team, but we did return a lot of girls, which made this whole process of preseason [a] really easy and nice transition,” Stenberg said. “As for leading this group, they make it really easy.”
A year after finishing third in the WCC yet falling short of an NCAA Tournament selection, 22nd-year Head Coach Tim Ward has reloaded the roster and put together another tough schedule.
“Last year was quite a bummer not to make the [NCAA Tournament], but we honestly did that to ourselves,” Stenberg said. “I think this year, it’s more so just focusing on the process of it all and then, bit by bit, we know that if we focus on that, we’ll get to where we want to be.”
Bela Garcia-Arce, Women’s Cross Country
A three-time captain for her high school program in the San Diego area, Bela Garcia-Arce had to remind herself what it was like to take command of a team.
“[Being a captain] was like this role that I had buried down when I got here as a freshman, when I got to just be a teammate,” Garcia-Arce said. “It’s something I’ve resurrected in me.”
Pepperdine Women’s Cross Country is one of the most underfunded programs at the school. However, with Sylvia Mosqueda as the new cross country head coach and a talented freshman class, Garcia-Arce looks forward to leading the team in 2019.
“I’m stoked to see a pack tighten up, and for us to come in as a really tight, strong group,” Garcia-Arce said. “We’ve been working toward that the past few years.”
Though Garcia-Arce studied abroad in Buenos Aires during her sophomore track season in 2018, she and her friends in her class rejoined the team immediately for their junior cross country season.
“For me, [running cross country and track] has been a huge part of my Pepperdine experience,” Garcia-Arce, a 2019 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, said. “I’ve made such good friends; all my best friends are on the team … It’s really helped me balance my college career [and] maintain a healthy lifestyle and also a very competitive, ambitious lifestyle.”
Garcia-Arce is joined by fellow seniors — and best friends — Tatum Rask, Cori Persinger and Grace Palmer for her final season of Waves Cross Country.
She hopes to score points for a team that has an exciting mix of talent, including junior star Abbey Meck and upstart freshman Skyler Danley.
“I just really want to be consistent [and] injury-free,” Garcia-Arce said. “I want to stay healthy, be able to contribute, be in that top five scoring and just making the team faster.”
Behind new leaders like Garcia-Arce and Mosqueda, the Waves look to build on their 34th-place finish at the 2018 NCAA West Regional meet, which was their best since 2014.
“I’ve had fun so far,” Garcia-Arce said of the beginning of her senior season as captain. “It happened so fast.”
Jalen Frantal, Men’s Cross Country
Jalen Frantal holds titles like “founder,” “president” and “executive board member,” but he doesn’t feel like he is overburdened.
The senior Pepperdine Cross Country and Track captain leads so many organizations on campus that there is no doubt his mark will remain long after the 2020 class walks across the stage at Alumni Park.
“It’s fun stuff that I do; it’s not like I have all these responsibilities and I have to get them done,” Frantal said. “With Waves Leadership Council [WLC], it’s like community outreach, which is amazing, [to] get involved in the community, get involved in campus.”
In addition to his leadership position in Athletics as the president of WLC, Frantal is an executive board member on the Student Philanthropy Council and the Pokémon Club. He is also currently founding a chapter of Step Ahead at Pepperdine, in which student-athletes will coach autistic children.
“It’s things that fill you up rather than drain you,” Frantal said.
On the cross country course and the track, Frantal came to Pepperdine as somewhat of a novice. As a child in a military family, Frantal spent time living all over the world, focusing his athletic talents on soccer and not running competitively until his junior year of high school.
“My freshman year [at Pepperdine], I ran, like, 27:15 [over the eight kilometer race distance], which is not anything to write home about,” Frantal said. “I’ve made slight progress over the years, and I’m hoping this season, obviously to be top three [or] four [on the team], contributing, but time-wise, I’m hoping to go lower twenty-fours, maybe 24:20.”
Frantal’s personal best 8K time of 25:15 in 2018 placed him 10th on the Pepperdine all-time list, and he broke 15 minutes over the 5000 meter distance for the first time (14:59.03) during the 2019 track season.
As much as Frantal has grown as a runner over his three years, so too has the Pepperdine running program.
“The progress that we’ve made since I was a freshman — myself and every other runner — it’s actually been incredible,” Frantal said. “We went from a team that doesn’t really have much to contribute to the conference to a team that is fighting some of the top dogs.”
The 2018 Men’s Cross Country team earned a top 15 ranking in the NCAA West Region for the first time in school history. Despite the graduation of top runner and Pepperdine Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year Nick Heath, Frantal and a strong, young group look to match and exceed the recent success.
“We did lose our top two runners, which is unfortunate, but we got some good freshman talent and some fantastic returners,” Frantal said. “I think we’re going into this season with the goal of winning every race leading into [the] Santa Clara [Bronco Invitational] and then conferences and regionals.”
The Waves open Frantal’s final cross country season Aug. 31 at the Mark Covert Classic in Brea, which Cal State Fullerton hosts.
“I’m just really looking forward to seeing how things go, making the most of it,” Frantal said.
Contact Karl Winter at email@example.com