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PREVIEW

Pepperdine Rides Wave of Top Recruits

September 13, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's taken plenty of work to get Pepperdine women's volleyball to its present status.

A lot of home visits. A lot of selling the program to recruits.

And when the sales job is done, a lot of finger-crossing, hoping a prospective player chooses Pepperdine over other local schools, namely UCLA, USC and Long Beach State.

Nina Matthies can finally crack a smile.

She's been getting the top-notch recruits the last few years. And now she's coaching a Top-10 team.

Pepperdine is No. 8 in the coaches' national poll, the highest it has ever been ranked, with a 7-0 record, winning 21 of 22 games in nonconference matches.

Pretty good numbers for a team with only two seniors.

"Coaching and everything's great, but to compete against the best, you've got to start out with some pretty good young players," Matthies said. "It's all about the kids you have to coach and I have tremendous kids right now. We're getting them off the top [high-school] teams in the country."

Setter Melissa Plass, a 5-foot-11 junior, is one of the best at her position in the country. Despite persistent back problems--and, more recently, a foot injury--Plass has helped the Waves forge a potent offensive attack.

One of Plass' favorite options is outside hitter Stacy Rouwenhorst, who was part of a recruiting class that was ranked the second-best in the nation.

Rouwenhorst, a 6-2 sophomore, was recently selected the West Coast Conference player of the week, delivering 50 kills in 10 games of the USC tournament.

Another successful sophomore is 6-3 middle blocker Jennifer Fopma, who is equally adept at offense and defense.

Other options on offense are juniors Melissa Snow, a 5-10 outside hitter, and Kate Taylor, a 6-3 middle blocker.

The talent is there for the Waves' drive toward a third consecutive WCC championship.

But Pepperdine will face a new stumbling block.

After never getting to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, Pepperdine has been tripped up there the last two years.

"We weren't satisfied with how we did last year," Rouwenhorst said. "We want to get to the Final Four. We have the ability to be one of the top eight or top four teams. We just have to play at our best and not drop to the level of our opposition."

*

Things don't look as promising for Cal State Northridge.

The Matadors (4-1) are picked to finish fourth among nine teams in their final year in the Big Sky Conference.

With only one middle blocker on the roster, Northridge will lean heavily on the arm of Laura Szymanski, a 6-foot junior opposite hitter who was an All-Big Sky selection last year.

Szymanski, a native of Germany, had 404 kills last year, in excess of 100 more than any other Matador.

Alexis Cormier, a 5-9 junior who was second on the team with 303 kills, will also get plenty of attempts at outside hitter.

Jennifer Kirby McNees, a transfer from Utah Valley State, a junior college, has settled into a starting role at the other outside hitter.

The middle is a big question mark for Northridge, which went 11-11, 7-9 in conference play last year.

When senior Angie Herrera was declared academically ineligible, sophomore Carissa Gough became the only true middle blocker on the Matadors.

Unn Kvendseth, a freshman opposite hitter from Norway, has been converted to the middle.

"Unn is strong and has the power, but she needs to learn the tactics of the middle," said Coach Lian Lu. "In the beginning, it will be tough, but we'll be much stronger than last year."

The Northridge nonconference schedule appears soft, good for victories but bad for the overall picture.

Opponents in the last few years--UCLA and Long Beach State--are conspicuously missing from this year's ledger, making the Matadors' transition to the Big West harder.

Next year will be substantially tougher when Northridge joins a conference with perennial Top-25 teams Long Beach State, Pacific and UC Santa Barbara.

A .500 record in conference play this year would be a good start.

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