Pilots prepare for No. 19 Pepperdine

By The Beacon | September 21, 2011 9:00pm

(Talley Carlston -- The Beacon)

By Bruce Garlinghouse Staff Writer garlingh13@up.edu

Women's volleyball head coach Joe Houck has implemented a new team mantra: It's not "Can we do it?" It is "Will we do it?"

To Houck, the mantra represents the transformation he has seen over the past few years.

"There is a very different feeling," Houck said. "We know we are capable of winning matches, but will we do it consistently?"

The Pilots wrapped up their preseason schedule with a win over Idaho in four sets on Sept. 14, and ended with a 6-7 record overall.

Houck said the preseason went well given their tough schedule.

"A number of the teams were highly ranked and we played some high quality teams to five sets," Houck said.

A tough preseason will prove to be important because the Pilots conference schedule features three teams currently ranked in the top 25.

"We play tough teams in the preseason, so its not like a culture shock when we play in conference," junior Ariel Usher said.

The 6-foot-1-inch outside hitter, along with freshman Alex Moore, sophomore Autumn Wedan and senior Marissa Plummer, makes up a more physical line-up Houck said will allow the Pilots to compete.

"Right now we have five girls that can reach 10 feet which is where you want. The last couple of years we have only had one or two," Houck said.

That size will be especially important as the Pilots open up their conference stretch against WCC favorite Pepperdine tonight at 7 p.m. in the Chiles Center.

Pepperdine enters the game ranked No. 19 with a 6-5 preseason record and boasting a line-up featuring eight players over six feet and three preseason all-conference selects including Portland native 6-foot-4-inch middle blocker Kim Hill.

Houck said the regular season opener will be an important test for the Pilots and they have an advantage being considered the underdogs.

"If there is an important game, Pepperdine is that one," Houck said. "We want to catch them completely unaware. "

Houck also said this week's matchup is a good opportunity to show the conference they are better than the preseason projected 7th in the conference despite finishing last season 5th.

"We feel we were disrespected," Houck said. "But we have to back that up."

Junior outside hitter Kate Bostwick said they have to focus on defense and slow down the Wave's big hitters.

"We know we have the offense, so we will have to focus defensively," Bostwick said.

Pepperdine has dominated the series, coming into the game 46-2 all time versus the Pilots.

However, the Pilots have been close to beating the Waves in the recent past, including a five-set match in their last meeting, which eventually ended in a Pepperdine victory.

Both Houck and Usher said they think this year's team has a legitimate chance to end a losing streak that runs 15 years long.

"If there was any year to beat them it would be this year," Usher said. "They are always good; it would be unbelievable to beat them.

After one day of rest, the Pilots will face Loyola Marymount at home.

LMU finished the preseason 6-6 and were picked to finish 5th in the WCC.

Houck said these first two weeks will give them an opportunity to see if this is the year they can make waves in the WCC.

(Talley Carlston -- The Beacon )