Can a team lose two of the most prolific players in school history . . . and get better?
Nicole Sanderson set Pepperdine career records for kills and aces, and Becci Roehl set the career mark for assists, but, despite their graduation, the Waves won't lose much ground thanks to the eighth-best recruiting class in the nation and a solid tandem of returning middle blockers.
Ranked No. 25 in the preseason coaches' poll, the Waves (23-6, 12-2 and second in the West Coast Conference last season) have a shot at their first WCC title since 1991.
That is, if the kids grow up quickly.
Five freshmen are on the roster, with three expected to start Friday against Sacramento State at the Wyoming Invitational.
Melissa Plass was one of the highest-recruited setters in the nation and, at 5 foot 11, has size to boot.
Plass will start, as will Lindsay Phillips, a 5-10 outside hitter who helped Huntington Beach Marina High win the Southern Section Division I championship last season.
Melissa Snow, a 5-10 freshman opposite hitter, is expected to start despite a right rotator cuff injury that forced her to miss club season.
Only the eighth-best class?
"I think it's better than that, but hey, that's somebody else ranking it," said 16th-year Coach Nina Matthies.
"This is probably as deep as we've ever been, talent-wise. Most programs have that six or seven top players, but this year I think we have 12 good players."
The middle will be patrolled by veterans Anna Witkowski, a 6-foot senior, and Jamie Hill, a 6-4 junior who set a school record with a .357 hitting percentage last season.
Outside hitter Kristin Lee, from Westlake High and Moorpark College, returns for her senior season after delivering 220 kills last season.
Conference rivals Loyola Marymount (No. 20) and University of San Diego (No. 21) are ranked ahead of the Waves in the preseason national poll.
Other teams in the region:
Cal Lutheran (7-13, 7-5 and fourth in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last season)
The Regals are a year older and, hypothetically, better with a transfer from UC Santa Barbara.
After seeing limited time with the Gauchos, 5-11 senior Kristin Scott will start at middle blocker for Cal Lutheran.
Three sophomores will start, including 6-foot outside hitter Lauren McCartin, from Saugus High, who led the Regals in kills.
La Verne is the conference favorite, and Pomona-Pitzer returns several letter-winners.
The Master's (15-18 overall, NAIA Independent)
With only one senior--opposite hitter Stacey Hudson--the Mustangs are young.
Kim Gibson, a 5-11 junior, and Emily Howe, a 5-11 sophomore, will be counted on at middle blocker.
Beth Barrington, a 5-8 outside hitter who transferred from UC Santa Barbara, might be the best hitter on the team.