The Pepperdine Women’s Beach Volleyball Team
PHOTOGRAPHS BY KEITH KING
This Saturday, March 4th, the Pepperdine Women’s Beach Volleyball team kicks off the 2017 season with their home opener against USC and UCLA. Yes, Beach Volleyball is a NCAA sport, and with 3 out of the top 5 ranked teams on the West Coast, these college athletes make you wish they all could be California girls. Tall, fit, and tan, with killer spikes and power blocks, these women are exactly as you picture them and then some.
Collegiate Beach Volleyball is a relatively new NCAA sport, which is why you may be surprised to hear about it. I know I was when I stumbled upon the Pepperdine Waves on Zuma Beach last fall, and couldn’t help but notice these physical specimens practicing on the court next to ours. Similar to college tennis, five teams of doubles compete for each school. The team winning 3 out of 5 matches wins the tournament. The Pepperdine Waves are ranked #4 going into the 2017 season, with USC ranked #1 and UCLA #3.
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Coach Nina Matthies and the Pepperdine Women’s Beach Volleyball Team:
“We’re training eyes, mind, and bodies.”
Pepperdine University is a small Christian college nestled in the hills of Malibu, California. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it is one of the most beautiful college campuses you’ve ever seen. The Waves home court is on world famous Zuma Beach — think “Baywatch” — to keep you California dreaming. The NCAA announced beach volleyball as an emerging sport in January 2010, and Pepperdine officially added the program for the 2012 season.
Legendary player and coach, Nina Matthies, was instrumental to the introduction of the sport into the NCAA. Spending more than a quarter of a century developing the Pepperdine Women’s Indoor Volleyball team into a perennial top 25 contender and a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament, Matthies, along with a committee of coaches and AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) members, began campaigning to make beach volleyball an NCAA sport. After record-breaking growth, it became a NCAA sponsored championship sport in 2016.
“Atlanta was the first Summer Olympics (1996) for Beach Volleyball. It exploded around the world, but people forget how new it is in international competition,” Matthies told Style of Sport. “The AVCA had a vision for how to help international teams, how to help the Olympics. There was nothing for collegiate athletes after indoor, and with advent of the women’s pro beach league in 1987, we needed college level seeding for the sport.”
Matthies was instrumental as well in founding that women’s pro beach league, the Women’s Professional Volleyball Association, in 1987. Recognized as one as one of the world’s top volleyball players, she herself was inducted into the WPVA’s Hall of Fame in 1995 and was honored as one of the “20 Legends of Beach Volleyball.”
TRAINING WITHIN THE LINES
“Running sprints back and forth for cardio is not what we do. We try to keep it volleyball related; what you would do in a game; working on footwork, blocking, defense. I felt our strength and fitness was good, but I didn’t feel we were jumping explosively. We weren’t jumping properly in sand. Hence all the jumping work.”
Style of Sport hung out with the Pepperdine Waves and their coach a few weeks ago on a chilly but sunny day on Zuma Beach. Practice went until sunset, with that magical California light putting a glow on the afternoon. We were thrilled to speak with this icon of Women’s Beach Volleyball about the sport, the team, and her goals for her players on and off the court.
STYLE OF SPORT: Your season kicks off this Saturday. Are you ready?
Nina Matthies: You’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve been practicing for so long, it will be very nice to play someone else and see where we stack up against other teams. We’re excited to see another face across the net.
SOS: You have been coaching for over a quarter century at Pepperdine. Are there particular things you look for in a Pepperdine player?
NM: I look for good human beings. You’ve got to be able to play volleyball, but you’ve got to be a unique person. I’ve been a coach for 35 years. You want kids that fit into the Pepperdine mission. We’re a small university of 3000 undergrads. There is no football, which I think is a good thing. We’re in this little Malibu bubble with its own unique challenges. You recruit kids that this is their ideal of what a college is. That narrows it down, and then, what kind of kids do I want to have around? They have to be great students. Top SAT scores. Great athletes. Great people that can all get along. You’re with your coaches 4 hours a day. I’m with them from the beginning to the end. I’m with them to make sure they graduate. I’m looking for kids that are dedicated.
SOS: When I arrived, the players all lined up, came over, shook my hand, and introduced themselves to me one by one. I was so impressed by that and with the respect they showed me as a visitor. Clearly this is part of their team training as well. Tell me a little bit about that.
PLAYING INTO SUNSET
If you’re in the LA area, be sure to come out to Zuma Beach and watch these players compete in the season opener this Saturday, March 4th. There will be 5 courts going at once with different matches and tons of women’s beach volleyball action!
NM: That is something we feel very strongly about. That they introduce themselves, look people in the eye, and shake hands. That to me is part of life. College is a time when a lot of kids can turn inwards and not realize there is anything else in the world but themselves. It can be very self absorbing — that age 18-22. I think at Pepperdine we do a really good job of saying, ‘Hey, there is a lot of life out here and you need to appreciate all the people around you.’ I’m big on that. If you come to practice be aware that someone is there — not in an egotistical way like, ‘Oh, they’re coming to watch me’ — but knowing that the image they portray is not just themselves. They have the team to represent, they have the coaches, and they have the university. I put a pretty big burden on them. They are representing more than themselves at all times.
SOS: Sports are such a representation for how you conduct yourself in the rest of the world, for how you live your life. Confidence. Strength. Teamwork. If you can take that off the court, you’re set for success. You’ve been so proactive and such a leader in women’s sports. What are your goals for these players after volleyball?
NM: A lot of times we as women get shoved under the rug. Even in this day and age we still do. I don’t accept that and I don’t want them to accept that. I’m all about women being strong and comfortable in themselves, knowing who they are, and learning to love themselves. Not trying to be someone else. To be able to understand that not everyone in the world thinks like you do, but to be able to discuss and accept that people are different. To not try to convince everyone to be like you. A lot of these kids have a strong religious background and their goal is to go help other people and carry their faith into the community. That’s what Pepperdine is about. Our mission is how we can help others. I want them to graduate and be confident in whatever they choose to do. You want to be a stay-at-home mom? That’s awesome. You want to be a business woman? Fantastic. You want to be a pro athlete? Great. You’ve gotten your degree and you can do whatever you want. I encourage them to follow their dreams and be proud of who they are and what they’ve accomplished.
SOS: Thanks Nina and good luck with the season!