Pepperdine's big wave
Jesuit graduate Sophia Milo is almost unstoppable during her junior year with Pepperdine volleyball
MALIBU, Calif. - Let's face it - it's a tall order to win a starting berth on the Pepperdine University volleyball team.
It's a taller order to win All-West Coast Conference honors and taller still to win a return trip to play with the U.S. Women's National team.
So if that's the order, then there's no better way to fill it than by calling on 6-foot, 4-inch Sophia Milo, a 2003 graduate of Jesuit High School who has been one of the top players on the West Coast since her freshman season.
Milo, 21 and currently toiling at summer classes in Humanities and French, finished her second tour with the U.S. National A2 team at the end of May, and while thrilled with her personal accomplishments on the court, was still hungry for more success on the team front.
'We were hoping to win our league this year and we didn't do that, but we did a lot better in the (NCAA) tournament than we expected,' said Milo, who's working toward
her degree in elementary education and expects to graduate in April of 2007.
Indeed they did. Milo and the Waves compiled a 19-12 overall record in 2005 (they were 10-4 and second place in the WCC), won a berth to the NCAA tournament and played their way into the Sweet 16 before running into an unwelcome sight - WCC champion and nemesis Santa Clara.
The Broncos, already winners of two straight regular season matches over the Waves, did it again in the tournament, beating Pepperdine 3-0 and eventually advancing to the Final Four before falling to national runner-up Nebraska.
'That was frustrating,' Milo said. 'It was tough to face them in the Sweet 16, and to lose horribly and embarrassingly - that was tough.
'We took a game off them each time we played them in league and then that (the NCAA loss),' Milo said. 'There was a lot of anger and frustration. We just didn't show up the way we usually did.'
But Milo went down swinging in her junior year, against Santa Clara and everyone else Pepperdine faced, and she put together an incredible individual season in the process.
Among her milestones this year were:
*** She led her team in hitting percentage (.349).
*** She led her team in blocks per game (1.41).
*** She won All-WCC first team honors for the second straight year.
*** She became Pepperdine's all-time block assists leader this season, passing Carrie Romer's (1993-96) total of 303, amassing 321 block assists with a full season still to play.
Her total is just 28 shy of breaking into the WCC's all-time top 10 mark of 349, and needs just 41 more total blocks in her career to move past Lisa Bevington's all-time mark of 423 established during the 1985-1988 seasons.
n Though Milo was not ranked on the school's all-time top 10 list to begin the season with 249 blocks, she recorded a career-high single-season total of 133 before the NCAA tournament.
And while it didn't erase the disappointment of her team's NCAA tournament loss, her personal success led to a second straight berth on the U.S. National Team.
'It was nice and it's always fun,' Milo said.
The U.S. team, after a six-week training session and trip to Switzerland in 2005, stayed closer to home in 2006, working their way through a single week of training at Tulane University in New Orleans, then competing for four days at New Orleans' Convention Center.
'I played pretty well. I was pretty happy with it,' Milo said. 'I had a lot of fun this year. It was a lot more laid back than last year.'
As rewarding as her experience with the U.S. team was, it was the up close and personal view of New Orleans just 10 months after Hurricane Katrina that really made an impact on Milo.
'It was still a disaster area,' she said. 'The head coach of Tulane took us on a personal tour and it was just awful. It was like they haven't done anything yet.
'You see it on TV, but it's a lot different to see it in person.'
And that experience, along with her many challenges and successes on the volleyball court, made the 2005-06 year a year of growth for Milo.
'I grew a lot this year. I could see it coming into the season,' Milo said. 'Physically I was a lot stronger and faster, and I came in with a lot more confidence and leadership and brought that onto the court.'
With her senior season looming on the horizon - fall practice starts Aug. 8 - you can bet there's a lot more to come.