The LMU beach volleyball program, not quite a decade old, set a standard for the history books this season. The 2021 team won its second straight West Coast Conference championship, earning LMU’s first NCAA championship tournament invitation. At the NCAA tourney, held in Gulf Shores, Alabama, LMU, seeded No. 5, finished third and chalked up an upset victory of No. 1 UCLA along the way. When the tournament ended, LMU was ranked No. 3 in the nation, its highest ranking ever.
The remarkable 2021 season, said Head Coach John Mayer, began with the players aiming at a high goal: “To make it to Gulf Shores. No LMU team had ever done that. They wanted to do something that had never been done before.”
Among the things never done before was hauling in a slew of WCC awards. Selina Marolf and Reka Orsi Toth were named American Volleyball Coaches Association Second Team All-Americans. Emma Doud was the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Jessie Prichard and Savannah Slattery were named WCC Pair of the Year. Madi Firnett took WCC Freshman of the Year honors. Mayer won his second consecutive WCC Coach of the Year award. Finally, Assistant Coach Karissa Cook was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association “Thirty Under 30” list of standout young coaches.
For Mayer, one of the season’s highlights was winning the WCC title. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, his team played the entire regular season on the road with no games at their home courts at Dockweiler State Beach.
“We didn’t have any home matches all year,” Mayer explained. With trips to Stanford, Cal Poly, Florida State and Grand Canyon University, the team always played in front of opposing fans. “Most of the time, fans were yelling at us, heckling us.” But the WCC tournament had long been scheduled for Dockweiler. “It was a nice moment for all of us to have the tournament at a place where a lot of the LMU community came out to watch and the five seniors who lost a season to finish with a home event.”
That will change next season, with new beach volleyball sand courts planned for the LMU campus. Four courts are to be completed at Drollinger Field by September, when practice for the next season begins. LMU has been the only ranked team with no home courts, Mayer says, a significant recruiting disadvantage. In the future, his players finally will experience a home-court advantage, with student and community support, and the program will have an opportunity to build a fan base. Just as important, a top facility will help recruiting immensely. “We want to continue to work with players like Emily Day ’10, Savannah Slattery ’20 and Betsi (Metter) Flint ’13,” Mayer says. “Those sorts of players are attracted to LMU, and we want to continue to bring them to LMU.”
For more information about the beach volleyball project, contact Brian Luft, associate athletics director for development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.