Oct. 31, 2002
By Jack Ferdon, Staff Writer
The Santa Clara
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - When sophomore Toni Muratore went down with a serious ankle injury this past summer, things were not looking good for coach Jon Wallace and the Santa Clara women's volleyball team.
The squad had high hopes for the 2002 campaign, entering the season with a No. 24 ranking in the polls and coming off a 19-10 year in which they were ranked as high as No. 14. Now Muratore, an all-West Coast Conference selection her freshman year and the team's starting middle blocker - and thought by many to be a potential All-American - was out indefinitely, leaving a black hole in the Bronco's lineup and the nebulous question of who would fill that hole.
Junior Becky Biniek was as shocked as the rest of her teammates when Muratore went down.
"Toni was playing really well in the preseason and noone really knew how to react," Biniek recalled. "Coach Wallace talked to us at practice and said that someone had to step up and and take her spot."
That someone turned out to be Biniek. Wallace tried a few players at middle blocker during the team's non-conference schedule but quickly gave the job to the six-footer from Foster City, who has been a more than capable replacement for Muratore.
"Becky has stepped in and taken advantage of an opportunity," Wallace said. "It's been great to see."
Biniek has been one of the most effective hitters for Santa Clara, which improved its record to 17-3 (6-1 in WCC) and moved to No. 12 in the national rankings. She has nailed down 10 kills or better in six matches this year, including 16 against Eastern Illinois and 15 against Alabama.
Those numbers are huge compared to Biniek's stats in her previous two seasons at Santa Clara, during which she got very little playing time. The scarcity of playing time was a tough adjustment for someone who captained her high school team, St. Francis of Mountain View, to the state title game.
"It was a new experience for me," said Biniek. "I'd never been on the bench before. It was hard going to practice, working hard at practice and then not playing. But looking back now, I guess all the hard work paid off."
One of the biggest payoffs for Biniek came in last week's showdown with conference power Pepperdine. She garnered seven kills and three blocks in the Broncos' three-game loss. Freshmen outside hitters Cassie Perret and Alyssa Lantz, who are filling in for another Santa Clara injury, freshman outside hitter Kim McGiven, tallied eight and nine kills, respectively
The loss to the Waves hurt the Broncos' chances of winning the West Coast Conference regular season title. Santa Clara will most likely have to beat Pepperdine on the road on Nov. 15 for that to happen. But after last week's performance at Leavey, Santa Clara will be the underdogs.
"Pepperdine played out of its mind against us," said junior middle blocker Becky Potter. "We weren't expecting that much from them. And we didn't have our 'A' game, so that didn't help. But I think we can still beat them in L.A. and take the conference."
Wallace, a former assistant coach at Pepperdine, concurred. "They came in and just took it to us. We play contrasting styles of volleyball. They played big in that game and used their size against us. We have to beat them by using our speed and quickness."
While the Waves game appears to be the only remaining challenge on the Broncos' schedule, Santa Clara cannot afford to look past teams such as University of San Diego and Loyola Marymount, who are currently third and fourth, respectively, in the WCC. Last year, the Broncos were upset by Idaho in their final regular season game before the NCAA tournament. The loss dropped Santa Clara in the tournament seeding and forced a tough first-round match against San Jose State, which the Broncos lost.
"Our goal this year is to get to the third round of the tournament, but it will depend on whom we draw," Wallace said.