LMU Makes History in Winning First WCC Championship
SANTA MONICA – Less than 24 hours prior to Loyola Marymount pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the college beach volleyball season, and then doing it again 30 minutes later, coach John Mayer had said that this was the first time he believed – really, truly, genuinely believed – that his Lions could knock off Pepperdine.
But to beat them twice?
“I don’t know,” he admitted, “if I really believed we could beat Pepperdine twice in a row.”
To doubt one’s own team, even if it is but a kernel of a doubt, may sound a bit blasphemous to some. But you have to understand the historical amount of history needed to be made in order for LMU to do what it did on Saturday afternoon at the West Coast Conference Championships.
In eight years as a beach program, the Lions had never beat Pepperdine. They’d never even taken multiple sets.
And now they’d have to take not just multiple sets, but three? Twice? In the same afternoon? And they’d have to do that on a stage in which the Waves had never lost? To win a tournament no program had won but the one named Pepperdine? And to do so on legs that would be playing their fourth match of the day, a load of which they’d never had?
It’s a bit poetic, too, how it all happened. The symmetry. The closed loops.
Courts one, two, three and five had split in the final – the second one, after LMU had already topped the Waves in the first final, after the Lions had already made history twice, first by beating Pepperdine, second by forcing the first double-final in WCC Championship history.
It came down to court four. Veronica Nederend and Emma Doud. Two players who all but launched the program in its current iteration. Nederend – ‘V’ as she’s known to the Lions – was Mayer’s first beach player; Doud his first beach-only recruit.
“They’ve grown and learned together and they really represent the type of player we want as a part of our program,” Mayer said.
Up 15-14 in the third set, conference title on the line, Mayer had seen, for three years, the two play it safe. Pop in a float. Be conservative. Put the ball in the opponent’s hands. And then Doud throws in a dart down Nikki Lyons’ line — “and that’s with the conference title on the line,” Mayer said. “That’s playing to win. That’s hard to beat.”
Ace. Match. History made not once — beating Pepperdine — not twice — beating Pepperdine again — but thrice — winning the conference tournament — four times if you count the fact that it occurred in a match the WCC Championships had never before needed to play.
“Just trusting what we’ve done and also our coaches and I set my mind to just go after the serve,” Doud said.
Maybe half an hour after the win, after the pictures and the high fives and the trophies and running into the ocean with their new WCC Champions shirts and hats on, Nederend could still hear it, the constant drumbeat of Mayer’s oft-cited motif: “Control what you can control.”
“Just this point,” she remembered telling herself. “All I can control is this point.”
It’s all she could control four years ago, when she was a freshman and Mayer had just taken over the program and the Lions were losing more than double the matches they’d win.
“We didn’t win a whole lot of matches and it was frustrating and disappointing and there’s been a lot of that in the first couple years,” Mayer said. “There’s been progress but not as fast as I want.”
Most coaches would be thrilled at the pace of that progress, from 7-18 to 15-14 to 22-14 to, currently, 27-11 and WCC champions. But Mayer isn’t most coaches, and LMU evidently isn’t most programs.
“Amazing,” Nederend said. “Just to think of freshman year and what that looked like – crazy. The coaches have built up a learning environment and a place that emphasized growth so it’s so cool to see how that’s lifted the standard.”
The win gives LMU its best shot at making NCAA Championships two weeks from now. In eight days, a committee will sit down and select the top eight teams — three from the West, three from the East, two at-large — to travel to Gulf Shores and compete for a national title. The Lions’ resume, now with a pair of top-five wins and a conference title, is as good as any in the running for the at-large bids.
But remember: That’s out of their control. LMU has taken care of everything that it could have, controlled what it could control.
“It just shows where our program’s come and hopefully where we’re going to continue to head,” Mayer said. “It’s an unbelievable day.”