Broncos Athletics

Broncos Flying High

Oct. 20, 2003

By Ron Bergman
San Jose Mercury News

No wonder Cheryl Levick, athletic director at Santa Clara University, laughs easily and often as she discusses the state of the school's teams.

``It's the first time in the history of Santa Clara athletics to have four teams in the top 20,'' she said. ``It's a tribute to the teams and the coaches.''

And partially a tribute to Levick that men's and women's soccer, women's volleyball and men's water polo all appear in the top 20 of national NCAA polls.

Levick, in her fourth year as athletic director, learned her lessons well during 12 years as an assistant A.D. at Stanford, which has won multiple Directors' Cups awarded to the most successful college athletic program in the country.

``I applaud Stanford for what they do and how they do it,'' Levick said. ``We find ourselves parallel here to what they do, but on a much smaller scale. We recruit similar athletes.''

Levick, who succeeded basketball legend Carroll Williams, brought a sense of relentless organization to the program. She had each of SCU's 17 coaches devise a five-year improvement plan and overall recruiting strategies.

Two of the coaches with programs in the top 20 were in place when Levick arrived, including the most successful of them all, Jerry Smith, who has built women's soccer into a national force. And she didn't have to look far for a men's soccer coach -- Cam Rast was an assistant for eight years before being promoted before the 2002 season.

Levick, the only female athletic director in the West Coast Conference, is a former college gymnast, runner and synchronized swimmer who is riding the wave of the Broncos' success.

Here is a look at the four SCU teams in the top 20.

Men's soccer

Rank: Ninth.

Coach: Cam Rast, 33, was an assistant coach for the Broncos for eight years before taking over in 2002.

Record: 10-2-3.

Big victory: Southern Methodist.

Leading players include: Goalie Steve Cronin and defender Ryan Cochrane.

Hanging in Rast's office is an enlarged team photo of Santa Clara's 1989 national championship team. And there he is, smiling for the camera, lined up with his teammates. In fact, he seems to be in the photo twice, as if the scene has been digitally manipulated.

But that's Rast's twin, Jeff, another cog in the Broncos' only national championship team. Cam Rast became an international star on U.S. teams, including the 1992 Olympic squad, which he captained. Jeff went on to become a banker in Portland.

``We knew we had a team that had enough maturity and ability to be ranked as high as we are,'' Cam Rast said. ``The West Coast Conference has been a good league for soccer. San Francisco has won four men's titles although the rest of the WCC has caught up with the Dons. Portland and Loyola Marymount now present the biggest challenge.''

Women's soccer

Rank: 13th.

Coach: Jerry Smith, who has coached the Broncos for 16 years and won an NCAA championship in 2001. Santa Clara has appeared in the NCAA tournament 14 consecutive years.

Record: 9-3-4.

Big victories: 2-0 over Stanford, 3-0 at San Diego and 5-0 over Pepperdine.

Leading players include: Defender Chardonnay Poole and midfielder Micaela Esquivel.

Health has been an issue for the Broncos this season, particularly for senior forward Veronica Zepeda, who has been limited by shin splints. Leading scorer Marian Dalmy is out with a high ankle sprain.

Smith made a veteran coach's move when he shifted his lineup to change the emphasis from offense to defense. Jessica Ballweg went from midfielder to central defender and Leslie Osborne from forward to midfielder. The result was better than anticipated. The Broncos have recorded five shutouts in their past seven games.

``We were giving up a lot of goals earlier this season,'' Smith said. ``We found ourselves starting out in a hole. We were trying to outscore teams. That didn't do it.''

Women's volleyball

Rank: 14th.

Coach: Jon Wallace, 35, was a standout at UC-Santa Barbara when the Gauchos reached the national final.

Record: 13-6.

Big victories so far: San Diego, San Diego State and Arizona at Tucson.

Leading players include: All-America second-teamer Becky Potter, a middle blocker, and setter Kelli Sousa.

Potter is the first Bronco to record a triple double (kills, digs, blocks) in 12 seasons.

The Broncos keep winning despite season-ending injuries to two players. Megan Johnston is out with a ruptured disk and Jac Heler sustained a compound fracture in her lower leg in the sixth match of the season.

Wallace has taken the Broncos to the NCAA tournament all four years he has been at Santa Clara.

Men's water polo

Rank: 17th.

Coach: Keith Wilbur, in his second season, went to Menlo School and earned an economics degree at Princeton.

Record: 13-8.

Big victories: Two over powerhouse Brigham Young-Hawaii, ranked 17th the first time and 15th the second.

Leading players include: Goalie Peter Moore and field players Danny Figoni and Kenny Flanagan-De La Hoz.

Of all the ranked Broncos teams, water polo is the most surprising. The team was 10-26 last season, losing 12 of its last 13. At home, the Broncos can't practice effectively or play against top-flight competition because their pool isn't big enough and is shallow at one end. A new pool is in the master plan, but it isn't one of the athletic department's five top priorities, according to Levick.

``I'm surprised we got here this quickly,'' Wilbur said. ``I don't want to say they exceeded my expectations, but we got there quicker than I thought we would.''