LMU Advances to semifinals of WCCs

LMU Mixes Things up, Advances to Semifinals of WCC Championships

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SANTA MONICA – You’d think, given that this weekend is the final of the season for the West Coast Conference, excepting those who move onto the NCAA Tournament in two weeks, that it would be relatively simple to scout an opponent.

There would be film dating back to February. Tendencies would have been identified. Strategies made. No real surprises.

Unless, of course, you’re playing against LMU. In their 33rd match of the season, on the biggest stage of the year thus far, the Lions put forth a lineup they hadn’t yet, starting Savannah Slattery and Bo Culo on court one, Reka Orsi Toth and Megan Nash on two, Sara Kovac and Jessie Prichard on three, Veronica Nederend and Emma Doud on four and Paige Panter and Erin Martin on five.

Unusual, perhaps. Effective, certainly.

The Lions won both of their matches on Friday, the first day of the WCC Championships, to earn a spot in Saturday’s semifinals, where they will see top-seeded Pepperdine.

“They decided this week to switch partners,” said Orsi Toth, who went undefeated on the day. “We took it positively, try to get a win for the team so we’re going to cheer each other on, fight for each other.”

Of all teams, LMU may be the most prepared to switch on the fly. Once a week during practice, the Lions will mix up who plays with whom, learning different sets, different tempos, different types of chemistry and styles of play.

It’s something coach John Mayer implemented this year. After years of seeing its effectiveness indoors, it was time, he thought, to test it on the beach.  

“I learned about how there’s research behind when you hit sets off a different setter, when you receive serves off of different servers, it’s not just A side vs. B side every day,” Mayer said. “When it is A side vs. B side, you hit off the same setters, you see the same servers, a lot of times the games aren’t as competitive, and there’s some research on when you mix things up, it forces hitters to read more because they have to hit off different setters. And the whole gym raises because the level’s higher all the way around.

“Coming to the beach, we would try to do it a little bit more in our warm ups but once we started competing we didn’t do it, and I’m not sure why. After last year, we had an injury, and we were making switches and it just didn’t go well. It made me just decide that next year I’m going to do once a week mixing partners up, even if it’s a day or two before our match. It forces them to get to know their whole team, hit off different setters, play with different people. And B, if we do make switches, they’re going to have some experience.”

So while no other team had seen the combination of partners LMU put forth on Friday, Mayer had. He knew there would be no issue with, say, Orsi Toth and Nash, despite it being the first time they had competed together.  

“I wasn’t concerned that it was just an on paper thing,” he said. “No, I’ve seen them play, they’re good.”

Indeed they were. They all were. LMU opened with a 5-0 sweep over Pacific, dropping only a single set, on court one. Then they edged out a tight, 4-1 win over St. Mary’s in which three courts went the full three sets while court one went in two to the Gaels.

“Could have just as easily been 4-1 the other way,” Mayer said of St. Mary’s, which beat LMU, 3-2, in the same round a year ago. “We always have a good rivalry going between the two of us.”

The wins put LMU in the exact position it was in two years ago, against Pepperdine in the semifinals. An opportunity to knock off the winners of the past three WCC Championships. An opportunity to bring home a first conference title.

“I think Pepperdine has dominated our conference, and every time we have played them in the past, I tried to convince myself there was a chance but I didn’t feel like there was,” Mayer said. “I’d say this year we can definitely beat them. We might have to play the best we’ve played all year, but we’ve beaten top 10 teams.

“To win a conference championships, to beat Pepperdine twice, would mean a lot for this season and for our seniors, and it would mean a ton for our program.”  

WCC Saturday Schedule

9 a.m.: Pepperdine vs. LMU

10:30 a.m.: St. Mary’s vs. San Francisco

Noon: Loser of Pepperdine-LMU vs. winner of St. Mary’s-San Francisco

1:30: Finals

3: Second final, if needed

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