Junior Kayla Joyce goes for a serve in the second set of the Waves match against UW. Pepperdine fell to the Huskies in four sets. Photos by Ashton Bell
Senior outside hitter Rachel Ahrens reached the mark of 1,000 career kills mark over the weekend, as Pepperdine Women’s Volleyball took mixed results from the 23rd annual Pepperdine Asics Classic.
The Waves fell to University of Washington (25-16, 22-25, 25-12, 25-19) on Friday, Sept. 10, before grinding out a victory against Cal Poly in a nail-biting five-setter (15-25, 25-8, 25-13, 17-25, 16-14) Sunday, Sept. 12.
“Our team stuck together,” Head Coach Scott Wong said. “Our team just hangs in there, and makes the right plays at the right time.”
The Waves came into their game against UW riding high with a 6-0 record. But they struggled early from self-inflicted errors, particularly off the Huskies serve. Two of the Huskies’ first three serves of the match were aces, as they raced off to a 7-3 lead in the first set.
The Waves chased the Huskies the rest of the set, but couldn’t climb out of the early hole. The UW block was stellar, and they were able to find room for kills all around the court, which led to a 25-16 first set win.
“We were not happy about our performance,” Wong said. “Every match you learn, and if you’re not learning then teams are bypassing you. I feel like we learned a lot.”
The second set was a back-and-forth affair. With the Waves down 11-12 and the set in the balance, Ahrens took over, getting a big kill and a service ace to put the Waves ahead.
“She was unstoppable,” Wong said of Ahrens’ performance against the Huskies. “[Ahrens] has got a lot of different weapons, and she comes through big in critical moments.”
Ahrens put on a show for the rest of the set, hitting nine kills from the outside, including one off an arching, long-range bump set from senior libero Madison Shields that put the Waves up 21-18. Shields led the Waves in digs both games, finishing with 34 in the tournament. A short time later, the Waves took the second set 25-22.
UW bounced back superbly from their second set loss, leaping in front 9-4 and then 13-5 while the Waves used several timeouts to try and catch their breath. The Waves relied heavily on Ahrens, who kept launching kills from all over the court. But the Huskies went on a tear offensively, with outside hitters Claire Hoffman and Samantha Dreschel and middle blocker Sophie Summers each pitching in for kills.
The Huskies started the fourth set fast as well, swiftly reaching a 10-4 lead. The bright spot for the Waves was, down 15-10, Ahrens slammed a kill past the UW block for her 1000th as a Pepperdine player. The crowd stood to applaud, recognizing the gravity of the moment.
“I’m just really grateful,” Ahrens said. “It’s amazing. I couldn’t have done it without my team, and so I’m really proud of them. I’m grateful that I get to play with this amazing group of girls at this amazing school.”
UW won the fourth set 25-19, and with it, the match. Ahrens finished the match with 27 kills, tying her career high for a single match. UW went on to beat Cal Poly 25-17, 25-15, 23-25, 25-14 on Saturday, Sept. 11, and claimed the Pepperdine Asics Classic title.
Pepperdine looked to avenge their defeat when they played Cal Poly on Sunday, but got off to a slow start. By the time the Waves got into their groove, Cal Poly sprinted to a 10-3 lead. Attack errors were deadly for the Waves again, as they finished with 12 in the first set, which they dropped 25-15.
“There’s no big changes,” Wong said. “We’ve shown and we’ve played really good volleyball. That was the message: ‘We’ll go back to work. We’ll be fine.’”
The Waves were able to reverse the momentum in the second set. After a tightly contested 5-5 start, the Waves went on a 20-3 run to close out the set quickly. A big part of this effort came from freshman outside hitter Grace Chillingworth, who came up with 17 kills and 3 blocks in the game.
In a similar pattern, the third set got to 5-5 as well, before the Waves went on 11-3 run to put it out of reach. Ahrens stepped up again, racking up kill after kill and pushing her total number to 21 for the game. Sophomore middle blocker Meg Brown also made a big impression, as she finished the game with 17 kills, 3 blocks and 1 ace.
“Good teams figure out opponents,” Wong said. “Sometimes all it takes is one play, and that snowballs into a lot of points.”
Cal Poly came into the fourth set more organized. Led by outside hitter Jamie Stivers, who had 17 kills on the night, the Mustangs found their rhythm offensively, and they took the fourth set 25-17.
It all came down to the fifth set. Cal Poly held a slight lead until 12-11, but after two attack errors by the Mustangs, the Waves overtook them 13-12. Then, with the match in the balance at 14-14, a Cal Poly bump hit a light of Firestone Fieldhouse, giving the Waves a match point.
It was a gift the Waves would not pass up, as Chillingworth stepped up to provide the winning kill.
“It’s definitely nerve-racking,” Chillingworth said. “But I know that I have all of them behind me, and they’re all there for me. We have a lot of trust in each other, and as long as we play our game, we know that we’ll be able to do anything.”
Ahrens and Shields were both named to the team of the tournament. They were joined by UW stars Hoffman, Summers, and setter Ella May Powell, who was named tournament MVP.
The Waves moved to 7-1 on the season, and will look to continue their hot start to the season Thursday, Sept. 14 against VCU (4-5).
Follow the Graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic
Email Alec Matulka: firstname.lastname@example.org