Opportunites Abound for Volleyball Program
July 14, 2004
For the first time in head coach Jon Wallace's six years on the mission campus, his Bronco volleyball squad will not field one senior. With the spring graduation of the program's first All-American, an NCAA season assists leader and an All-Conference performer, SCU will have seven juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen.
Despite the lack of senior leadership, Wallace's attitude is very positive regarding the upcoming season.
"This will be the first time since I've been here that we will not have a defined leadership group going into the season, and our coaching staff is accepting this as a positive turn for our program," he explained. "We're excited because we're going to be exploring a new frontier as a group. In the past we've had really defined roles and now we don't, which will give some people opportunities to express themselves and change to really be something different than they've been. We're really looking forward to that because we have great leaders in the program who will step up."
Wallace has led Santa Clara to five straight NCAA Championship appearances and said the team's goals will be similar heading into this season.
"We have a more athletic team than years past, but at the same time, more inexperienced. Our motto for the year is to grow every day and get better every day. The ceiling's going to be really high for this team. Our goals are going to be the same at the end, but we're going to have to take some really big steps along the way to get there."
Every player is expected to make an impact, including the freshmen class that was ranked ninth nationally by PrepVolleyball.com. Although the program returns three starters from last year, Wallace said he anticipates the freshmen will make an impact right away and could earn starting roles.
"I'm excited about this year," he added. "I like our mix of ball control, power and athletic ability. We have a lot of room to grow and it's just going to be a matter of getting everybody up to speed and getting collegiate experience."
Juniors Toni Muratore and Cassie Perret are two-year starters. Both are All-West Coast Conference honorees and will be looked upon by the coaching staff to have a major impact on the Broncos' success.
"We're really looking for big things from both players," Wallace said. "We need Cassie and Toni to step up and take ownership of this team and have a break-out season. Cassie will be one of our primary passers while Toni will be a force physically, taking big swings for us."
Santa Clara's most experienced player returns this fall after a season-ending leg injury kept her off the court in 2003. Jac Heler will be the core ingredient to the team's serve reception and how its defense is run in the back row.
"Jac's instincts for the game are comparable to the best players in the country. We look for her to have a calming effect on the floor."
Also on the front line for the Broncos will be junior Alyssa Lantz, sophomores Kim McGiven and Megan Pura, and freshman Chandra Shih. Lantz tore knee ligaments late in the season and missed the NCAA Tournament. A two-year starter, her recovery will continue through the season and will add experience on the court upon her return. McGiven is also recovering from an injury, sustained during the off season, and will bring a strong hunger and competitiveness to the court. Pura developed her game over a strong spring season and will compete with McGiven for a spot on the left side. Shih is a strong aggressive player, who will be competing for an outside or opposition position.
Three players will be competing for two starting roles in the middle. Sophomore Nora Miller gained valuable experience during the spring season and is described as a natural blocker and intense competitor. Incoming players Annalisa Muratore and Anna Cmaylo will join the roster at this position. Muratore is the younger sister of Toni and has power, agility and strength at the net. Wallace said Cmaylo is a very smooth player who, at 6-4, is the tallest team member and is expected to dominate at the net.
Incoming player Crystal Matich was a three-year starter in high school and will be joining the program with a wealth of experience.
"Crystal is exciting to watch and we feel her athleticism, speed and agility will allow her to be a great setter at SCU," Wallace said. "She is somebody who can help move the program forward."
Health permitting, junior Kelli Walsh will also be in the mix for the role of setter. A competitive and knowledgeable player, she will help the program out on the court. She will also compete with a trio of players at the defensive specialist and Libero positions.
Junior Lexie Bothman is the team's returning starting defensive specialist. A seasoned veteran who will lift the team's level of play from day one, Bothman will be joined at this roster spot by sophomore Rachel Greenberg and freshmen Caroline Walters and Chelsea Reilley. Greenberg will compete for time at all three back row positions, while the newcomers will also aim for time at Libero.
After completing the 2003 season with a No. 19 national ranking, and reaching as high as 12th, the Broncos will open at home for the first time in five years, hosting Sacramento State. Santa Clara will follow with the Bronco Invitational, hosting Arkansas and Pacific. The Broncos will play eight more home matches at the Leavey Center, highlighted by a September 28 match against 12th-ranked Cal.
In fact, Santa Clara's fall schedule includes matches against four teams that finished last season ranked in the top 10 nationally by the AVCA, including Hawaii, who advanced to the Final Four last season and closed the year ranked third, and a UCLA team that reached the Elite Eight and ended December listed fifth.
The West Coast Conference season begins October 1, when the Broncos host Gonzaga. The quest for the 2004 league crown will be challenging, as six of the eight conference schools advanced to the postseason last year, displaying the national strength of the WCC.
The regular season finale will take place at perennial power Stanford on November 23. The Cardinal ended the 2003 season ranked 10th by the AVCA. Santa Clara will then break for Thanksgiving and await the NCAA Selection Show.