2020 NCAA Preview:
Arthur Kapetanakis | January 16, 2020
NCAA quarterfinalists in three of the last four seasons, the Pepperdine Waves are enjoying one of the most successful runs in program history. Led by ITA No. 1 Ashley Lahey, the West Coast Conference powers have not lost a conference match in the last four seasons, though they did lose a pair of singles starters from the team that fell to eventual champions Stanford in the 2019 NCAA tournament.
Sixth-year head coach Per Nilsson will need to mold a young, new-look squad—albeit one that enters the spring season at No. 6 in the ITA Rankings—in order to continue that WCC streak in 2020.
Lahey (pictured above), a senior and a former Master’U champion with Team USA in 2018, is joined by fifth-year senior Jessica Failla (No. 50 in the ITA singles rankings) as the lone upperclassmen on a lean, seven-player squad, with sophomores Anastasia Iamachkine (No. ADVERTISEMENT 62) and Daria Kuczer (No. 90) also entering the spring season in the Top 100.
“We have a little bit of a weird team this year,” said Nilsson, speaking during a recruiting trip at the 2019 Orange Bowl. “I don’t want to call it a rebuilding year, but it’s definitely a lot of new blood, trying to step in and do some work. But it’s exciting to see what we can do.”
In Lahey and Failla, the roster boasts two California products that embody the spirit of the Malibu program. Nilsson will be relying on their influence to maintain the team’s high standards of recent years.
“Our strengths are going to be that they’re super close and they’re working together,” he previewed. “And when you do that, you can get that little extra out of everybody. But we’re still waiting to see what some of the new ones are going to do.”
While Nilsson knows first-hand the threat that the “usual suspects” at the top of the women’s collegiate game will provide, he’s content to turn his attention inward, as the Waves look to crest with the first NCAA title in program history.
“We try to focus on our girls,” he said. “If they work hard and we do our job as coaches, we have a chance against anyone.”
After a trip to Las Vegas for the UNLV Invitational, an individual event set for this weekend, Pepperdine will open their dual-match schedule when they host the Runnin’ Rebels on Jan. 25 as part of ITA Kick-off Weekend. The Waves’ WCC slate starts on March 20, with a trip to Santa Clara University.