Nov. 30, 2006
BY ERIK BOAL
Special to the Daily News
It's only appropriate that Sophia Milo wants to become a kindergarten or first-grade teacher when her volleyball playing days are over.
During her four years as a middle blocker on Pepperdine's women's volleyball team, Milo has developed all the characteristics necessary to excel in elementary education: patience, consistency and leadership by example.
"It's just my personality," said Milo, a 6-foot-4 senior from Jesuit High in Portland, Ore. "Ever since I started playing, I felt like that's what it takes to be a great player ... I always wanted to be the one go-to person that can put the ball away on game point."
Whether it was playing on one of the most successful teams in school history as a freshman or enduring one of the Waves' most frustrating campaigns as a sophomore, Milo has remained Pepperdine's steadiest performer while leading the program to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances the past two seasons.
"I just wanted to be that steady player that my teammates could count on," said Milo, who leads Pepperdine (16-11) into its first-round match at 7 p.m. Friday at Long Beach State (25-5). "I'm not a vocal leader. I'm more about getting the job done."
Considered one of the top 10 recruits in the country coming out of high school, Milo chose Pepperdine over Stanford and other Pac-10 schools, seeking the warmer climate of Malibu over what she was accustomed to in the Pacific Northwest.
Her arrival gave veteran coach Nina Matthies a sunnier disposition in 2003 as Milo and fellow freshmen Kekai Crabbe and Kristin McClune complemented a senior-laden team during the Waves' 27-3 campaign, culminating with a berth in the Sweet 16.
With such lofty credentials - including twice playing with the U.S. women's national A2team - have come added responsibilities for Milo.
But the program's all-time leader in block assists (434) and total blocks (512) has never been affected by the pressure.
"Sophia's been asked to be a leader since her sophomore year," Matthies said. "(Her and Kekai) have matured a lot and other people have really stepped up around them and that's how we've won some of those close matches."
The first half of Milo's senior season saw the opposite trend, as Pepperdine found itself at 4-3 at the midway point of WCC play, including being swept at Loyola Marymount.
"It was really about pride," said Milo, who was selected West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year in 2003 before receiving first-team honors the past three years. "Santa Clara and LMU were embarrassing losses and it was a huge wake-up call for us, but that's what it took to shake us."
With Milo as the catalyst, Pepperdine went undefeated in the second round of conference play, and its only loss was a five-game defeat at No. 4 UCLA the last month of the season.
"She's just been incredible," Matthies said of Milo. "It makes it difficult to compare 15 to 20 years ago to now, because the competition we're playing now is pretty amazing, but Sophia is definitely one of the best we've ever had."
Before she completes her degree at Pepperdine and explores the possibility of playing professionally in Europe, Milo wants to add to her legacy by leading the Waves to their first NCAA Final Four.
"We take it as a huge challenge," said Milo, who also ranks in Pepperdine's all-time top-10 in kills (1,196), attempts (2,548), hitting percentage (.305) and solo blocks (78).
"But it's a sense of that's why we play volleyball."
And why Milo was born to teach.