2002-03 Season Preview
They've Got The Look
Aug. 5, 2002
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - In his first three years on the Mission Campus, head coach Jon Wallace has built a championship college volleyball program. He has compiled a resume that consists of .728 winning percentage, a West Coast Conference Championship and Coach of the Year selection, 13 all-WCC performers and more importantly, three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament. All in all, not too bad for someone in their first-ever head coaching job on the collegiate level.
When Wallace took over the reigns of the program in 1999, he set out to build an elite college program that would compete with the top-10 programs in the nation. He set out to recruit the players that would buy into his system and help lead the program to where he thought it should be.
Judging by the success of two of those recruits, Becky Potter and Toni Muratore, Wallace has succeeded in bringing in the type of player that can compete at the highest level. Potter, who became the school's first-ever WCC Freshman of the Year in 2000, followed up her first year with a first team All-WCC selection in 2001. Entering her junior season, Wallace considers her to be among the top middle blockers not only in the WCC, but also in the country, and a legitimate candidate for All-American honors.
The same could be said for Muratore, who opened many eyes during her inaugural season on the Mission campus last season. Earning first team All-WCC honors after finishing second on the team in both kills and blocks. Emerging as a legitimate force in the middle, Muratore has the talent and skills to be considered for many postseason honors, even as a sophomore.
"Potter and Muratore are definitely two of the best middles in the college game right now," said Wallace. "Their continued development and leadership will be vital for us to continue to grow. At the same time, their success has opened up other recruiting avenues for us to be able to land the better players that we have had our sights on. The new players this year will also add to the team's success by opening up the middle with their play on the outside."
Because of the tangible success that the program has started to enjoy, Wallace and his staff have stepped their recruiting up another notch to move them closer to being the top-10 program they desire to be. This commitment to recruiting and overall excellence will be evidenced by the Broncos' play in 2002.
"We had to go and get bigger, faster, stronger and deeper in order to look the top programs in the country eye-to-eye," he continued. "The players we have recruited for this year will have an immediate impact on our squad, pushing us further along towards our goal."
The Broncos finished the 2001 season with a 19-10 record after dropping its opening round match of the NCAA Tournament to cross-town rival San Jose State in a five-game thriller. That match marked the final appearances by seniors Jami Bari and Merrin Thompson. Bari leaves as only the second Bronco to reach more than 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in a career, while Thompson leaves for a spot on the Canadian National Team after compiling more than 700 digs over her four years. Despite the numbers of the two seniors, much of the play was dominated by younger players.
The same figures to be true in 2002 as the Broncos only return two seniors to a youthful but experienced team. The exception to the youth movement however, are two players who return for their fourth and final year on the Mission Campus as captains and the unquestioned leaders of the team.
The Seniors Although twins Chrissy and Cindy Hirsch are widely respected by their peers, opposing coaches and school administrators, the two's biggest fan may, in fact, be their head coach.
"Chrissy and Cindy have been with me here every step of the way," said the fourth-year head coach. "I have seen them grow into leaders and valuable contributors not only on the court, but in the classroom and in society as well. Their leadership and presence on the court day in and day out makes my job that much easier, particularly in relaying our playing philosophy to the younger players."
Chrissy Hirsch enters her final season at Santa Clara following a year in which she earned honorable mention All-West Coast Conference honors. As a junior she played in 102 games, recording 261 digs and 23 service aces. In 2002 she will be looked to in her increased roll as the team's libero. The libero position was added to the collegiate game in 2002, giving defenses a little more flexibility in getting their best defensive player on the court as much as possible.
"Chrissy might be a good barometer of how our team is going," said Wallace. "If you walk into a match late and can't see the score, just take a look at Chrissy and you will be able to tell how we are doing. She is very competitive and sets a pretty high standard for the team."
Cindy Hirsch enters her final season following a successful junior season in which she played 97 games, notching career highs in both kills (97) and digs (231). She made a successful transition from defensive specialist to outside hitter in 2001, posting five double-doubles including 12 kills and 11 digs in the Broncos' upset victory over then 15th-ranked Pacific.
"Cindy has surprised a lot of people last year with her play on the outside," said Wallace. "She will continue to be invaluable to us as we try to make all the pieces of this year's puzzle fit together."
Middle Blockers Aside from the twins' leadership ability, the strength of the 2002 Broncos will lay in the capable abilities of their middle blockers.
Junior Becky Potter returns for her third season as a two-time All-WCC performer, earning first team honors in 2001 after garnering the school's first-ever WCC Freshman of the Year award in 2000. An explosive jumper with a strong arm, Potter will be looked to in key situations for points and sideouts. She has averaged 3.70 kills per game in her first two seasons while hitting at a .246 clip.
Sophomore Toni Muratore started her career off right at Santa Clara last year, earning first team All-WCC honors after registering 368 kills in 95 games. She finished second on the team in total blocks with 58 during her inaugural campaign, second only to Potter. With one year already under her belt, Muratore will be looked to for a bigger contribution both on and off the court.
Junior Becky Biniek posted 33 kills and 11 total blocks in 24 appearances in 2001, showing vast improvement from her freshman season. As a third-year player under Wallace, Biniek looks to have a bigger roll on the '02 squad, bringing experience and adding true depth to the position.
Outside Hitters Most of the Broncos improvement in 2002 will be seen in the play of its talented and deep outside hitting group. Anchored by four returnees and bolstered by three talented newcomers, Santa Clara has positioned itself to have multiple offensive threats on any given play.
Sophomores Megan Johnston and Christina Vick both return for their second season in the Wallace system. Johnston saw action in 54 games in which she posted 61 kills, 20 of which came against Saint Mary's and San Francisco. She entered the program in 2001 as the most athletic newcomer to the team and will look to build upon the lessons learned after one year at the collegiate level.
Vick appeared in 48 games as a freshman, recording 54 kills while posting a .266 hitting percentage. According to Wallace, she has great natural quickness in her movements and in her arm swing which will only get better with time and experience.
Senior Amy Grabill returns to the Broncos after a one-year hiatus in which she elevated herself to senior status in school. As a freshman in 2000 she played in only four games but recorded four kills in five attacks to go along with two digs and one block. After a solid performance in the spring, Grabill will figure into Wallace's offense during the fall.
Newcomers Alyssa Lantz, Kim McGiven and Cassie Perret are the prototypical outside hitting recruits that Wallace now looks for to add to "the look" that his program is taking on. All three bangers stand over six feet and can put a hard swing on the ball.
Lantz enters SCU from Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif., where she led her high school team to the CIF Sectional Championship in both 1998 and 2000. A 2001 honorable mention All-American, Lantz will have an immediate impact for the Broncos as an opposite hitter.
"The players we have recruited for this year will have an immediate impact on our squad, pushing us further along towards our goal."
Head Coach Jon Wallace
"Alyssa brings some attitude to our club," said Wallace. "She brings a lot of experience and a great knowledge of the game, along with a fiery attitude. She will be a valuable member of this program for the next four years."
McGiven begins her collegiate career after a good career at San Dieguito High School in Encinitas, Calif. At San Dieguito, McGiven earned first team All-CIF honors in both 1999 and 2000. At 6-foot-1, McGiven will have a chance to make an immediate impact on the floor. Wallace describes her as an extremely vocal and positive player on the floor.
Perret enters the program after graduating from Woodside Priory High School in Menlo Park, Calif., where she became the first girl in CIF history to earn State Championship MVP honors and State Championship Sportsmanship/Citizenship awards in back-to-back years (2000 and 2001). Wallace expects Perret to compete for a starting job as a freshman.
"Cassie's explosiveness and power reminds me of Ynez Carrasco who was the league MVP in 2000," said Wallace. "I think that she has a great chance to have a similar impact on our team that Ynez did during her time here."
Setters A position in which the Broncos were very solid last year was strengthened with junior Kelli Sousa returning and the addition of freshman Kristen Luxton.
Sousa had one of the best statistical years in Santa Clara history as a sophomore, posting 1,394 assists, which averaged out to 13.67 per contest. She currently ranks sixth all-time in both single-season and career assists. Her performance merited honorable mention All-WCC honors, but, according to Wallace, Sousa will be pushed on a daily basis by newcomer, Luxton, which could only make her better.
"With Kelli's experience from last season and the steps taken by her in the off-season, I expect her to be among the top setters in the country," said Wallace. "I have full confidence in Kelli's ability to take our team to the next level."
Luxton enters her collegiate career after playing at nearby Los Altos High School where she led her team to the CCS finals with a 16-2 record in 2001. Wallace says she has one of the best sets of hands in the country for setting, and will count on her to not only push Sousa to be better, but to run the team effectively when she is given the chance.
Defensive Specialists Aside from Chrissy Hirsch, the defensive specialist position is the least experienced group on the squad. Newcomers Lexie Bothman, Rachel Greenberg and Alexis Wallace make up the unit that will learn from Hirsch's example.
Bothman begins her collegiate career as the heir apparent to Hirsch in the Libero position. Wallace says she is extremely athletic and gifted on the court and has the intensity and will to make the team perform better. Of the three newcomers, she is the only one expected to have an impact during her freshman season.
Continuing their recent success will be a difficult task in 2002 as the Broncos have a tough schedule that includes 2001 National Champion Stanford, along with perennial top-25 teams Nebraska, Pepperdine, Michigan, and Minnesota.
"I like to think that we gotten better each and every year," said Wallace as he looked ahead to the upcoming season. "I expect this year to be no different. We want to be considered among the elite teams in the nation. We won the WCC title two years ago and would like to have a chance to get that championship back on a regular basis. That is our goal here, and with the girls we are getting now, we seem to have the right look for a team of that caliber. Now it is just a matter of playing at that level, which we have the talent to do."