Photos by Austin Hall
Their ticket is stamped. Pepperdine Women’s Soccer will play in their sixth NCAA Tournament in eight seasons. They will face the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who posted a 15-3-2 record in the regular season.
For Pepperdine, the season has been a rocky one. Their first loss was the third game of the season to an unranked, out-of-conference Illinois Fighting Illini. After a contested 1-0 loss to highly-ranked Vanderbilt two days later, Pepperdine dropped their third straight to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Despite the discouraging stretch, the team responded with an upset against Stanford, the second year in a row that the Waves took down the No. 2 ranked team in the country. The team played UCLA to a 2-2 tie in September and went 7-2 in West Coast Conference play.
Junior midfielder and leading scorer Joelle Anderson said she feels that the battle-tested group has improved significantly this season.
“Our preseason schedule was probably one of the toughest in the country, and I think it has prepared us well for the tournament,” Anderson said. “Playing teams like UCLA, Stanford and BYU this season was a challenge, but it helped us get to where we are at right now.”
Joelle Anderson (9) navigates through defenders versus Pacific on October 26.
As a team that returned eight key contributors from last season, expectations were high and the team was projected to contend for the conference title as they did last season.
History repeated itself as Brigham Young University and Santa Clara finished atop the conference standings once again with Pepperdine at third place. One of the only differences from last season is Pepperdine’s invitation to play in the tournament, as they barely missed the cut last season.
The Waves are no strangers to the tournament, as the team’s seniors participated in both the 2016 and 2017 postseason and the team’s juniors played in the latter. Pepperdine lost in the second round in both seasons.
Anderson said she was ecstatic to have the opportunity to play in the tournament.
“It means so much that we are able to go back to the tournament this year, especially after not seeing our name up on the board last year,” Anderson said. “I think we proved that we are more than capable of playing against some of the top teams in the country and the NCAA committee recognized what a special team we are.”
Joelle Anderson fights Stanford defender for the ball on September 13.
The Waves have a small but significant history with the Red Raiders. The two teams battled early last season to a 1-0 Pepperdine loss. Anderson vividly remembers their style of play, and she feels they can exploit it this time around.
“Last season, it was a very challenging game for us,” Anderson said. “Their physicality, along with their speed up top, was dangerous, but now we know what to expect when we play them.”
Pepperdine will travel to Texas for the first time this season. They will be playing in John Walker Soccer Complex on Tech’s campus in Lubbock.
The reputation of the stadium and the Red Raider crowd is high, but Anderson said she is confident the team will make the most of the opportunity.
“The atmosphere at Texas Tech is lively, and their fan base is always big,” Anderson said. “But we are excited to be a part of the experience on Friday. It will be a great soccer game, and I know it is going to be a battle until the very end. I am confident in our team and all of the hard work we have put in over the past few months.”
The game will kickoff this Friday at 4:30 p.m.
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