Waves to crash NCAAs:
Pepperdine preps for tourney
Christina Aguis | May 9, 2018
Pepperdine University has long a been a dominant force in the West Coast Conference, but this year, the Waves rose to national prominence by reaching No. 1 in the USTA College Tennis Top 25 for the first time. The Malibu, Calif., women held the top spot in the USTA poll for four weeks in a row in March and April and have been a staple in the Top 10 since April 2017.
Head coach Per Nilsson credits to the individualized philosophy that defines the Pepperdine program.
“It’s a lot of hard work. The easiest thing is to just throw the girls on the court and have everybody do the same thing,” he said. “But we really try to focus on having a plan each day for each player.
“We have seven players that are all different physically, mentally and maturity-wise,” Nilsson explained, “so the toughest job for us is to make sure that we’re using the day as well as we can for each player.”
He believes that the way his program develops players is what sets it apart from other schools.
“Our biggest goal is to make our players the best we can and get the most of them," Nilsson said. “We sell development at Pepperdine. Tennis is a big part of why we’re lucky to have the location we do.
“We really try to sell that this is a place where good players come to get better. Seeing them do that at the end of the year is just icing on the cake. The most important thing is that they feel they’ve gotten everything out of themselves.”
Ashley Lahey, who is supported by USTA Player Development and is known for leading the Waves, was excited to be No. 1 in the USTA poll and feels that it was a well-deserved honor.
“I think that it’s really hard for us to have a good ranking because of the conference we’re in. We can’t really compare ourselves to the big schools in that respect, but we can definitely take them down any day. To get a ranking that shows that for the first time was really, really cool,” Lahey said.
“I know how hard my teammates and I have all worked together for a long time to achieve this and become as much as of a threat as we are. So has the coach here. It’s just a really good marker of where we are and where we deserve to be.”
This is the second season for the USTA College Tennis Top 25 poll, which brings together college tennis experts and journalists from around the country to select the top women’s and men’s teams at the Division I level.
“It’s kind of fun because it’s a ranking based on votes,” Nilsson said. “It’s also interesting to see how it’s different from the ITA ranking. It’s fun for the girls to see that there are some people out there that think they’re good.”
Over the years, the team has improved by assembling a deeper lineup, and that’s what has made the difference in their move up the rankings, according to Nilsson.
But for Lahey, it’s all about the accessibility of being a Pepperdine player and contributing to the team.
“I like being on a team where you’re all working together for the same thing, especially in such an individual sport," Lahey said. "Also, you form really good bonds, and we all push each other. The college environment for matches is really cool because you’re all fighting for each other.
“The coaching is awesome and everything is in the same place so we can just go to the courts on campus and not worry about driving to practice. It’s all in one spot, so we can just really focus on getting better.”
After ending the regular season at No. 4 in the USTA poll, the Waves are preparing for the NCAA tournament by continuing their focus on individual improvement. Now, they can turn their full attention to tennis, as school is officially out for the summer.
“We will get ready for the NCAAs and go crush it there,” said Lahey.
Despite their lofty ranking in the USTA poll, the Waves are seeded No. 13 in the NCAA tournament and will open play at home on May 11 against the University of Idaho.
First-round play in the 64-team women’s and men’s Division I tournaments begins May 11 at various host campuses, with the final 16 teams descending on Wake Forest University on May 17 to determine a winner in Winston-Salem, N.C. The finals for both draws will be played on Tuesday, May 22.
The individual singles and doubles tournaments will follow at Wake Forest, from May 23-28.
For more information and to keep up with the tournament action, visit the USTA's College Tennis page.