April 10, 2006
Santa Clara, Calif. - After coming off of a record-breaking season in 2005, the Santa Clara women's volleyball team is dead set on returning to the national semifinals this year in Omaha, Neb. and the 2006 schedule that head coach Jon Wallace has put together will prepare them well for the upcoming journey. Santa Clara's 2006 schedule will feature nine teams that qualified for the 2005 NCAA Tournament, including matches with perennial national powers Stanford and Texas.
Despite the graduation of four seniors, including AVCA First Team All-American and 2005 West Coast Conference Player of the Year Cassie Perret, Santa Clara's cupboard is still stocked with talent. The Broncos, who ended last year ranked No. 4 in the final AVCA Top-25 Poll with a 27-5 overall record, return two All-Americans in middle blocker Anna Cmaylo and setter Crystal Matich, in addition to outside hitters Kim McGiven, a two-time All-West Coast Conference selection, and Brittany Lowe, the 2005 WCC Freshman of the Year.
The 2005 WCC Champions will start off the year on August 25 with a three-day tournament in Fresno, Calif. that will showcase Fresno State, Kansas State, and Pacific. The following weekend, New Mexico State will host a tournament in which Santa Clara will face stiff competition in New Mexico State, Texas State, and Texas Tech.
On the weekend of September 7, Santa Clara will trek to Austin, Texas to compete against Texas and Missouri, two renowned programs that have proven their worth on the national stage. Texas finished 2005 ranked No. 16 according to the AVCA and returns all six starters and its libero, including All-American middle blockers Leticia Armstrong and Brandy Magee. Setter Michelle Moriarty, who earned All-American Honorable Mention status, will resume her playmaking position after leading the Longhorns to a 24-5 mark and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Missouri will miss the sweet hands of departing senior Lindsey Hunter, but will rely on offensive of outside hitter Jessica Vander Kooi and middle blocker Nicole Wilson, both All-American Honorable Mentions last season, and the amazing defense of Tatum Ailes, the Big 12 Libero of the Year. The Tigers advanced to the NCAA regional finals last season and finished the year ranked No. 8, with an overall mark of 25-5.
"Texas returns everyone and has one of the best recruits in the country coming in. I think they are going to be one of the tallest teams in the nation. It will be a great test," said Wallace. "They are big, but they are also fast. It will be a good challenge for our team to see if we will be set enough in how we want to play in order to impose our style over theirs."
Added Wallace: "The last three or four years, Missouri has been really competitive in the Big 12. I anticipate them being really well-coached, maybe a different type of team in that they'll run different things at us as opposed to traditional teams. It will be an interesting match-up."
In a mid-week contest, Santa Clara travels to San Jose State on September 12 before heading just 20 minutes north up to Palo Alto, Calif. for the weekend to partake in the Stanford Tournament, where Georgetown, UC Irvine, and Stanford await. Stanford will be looking for some redemption, as the Broncos knocked out the Cardinal in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to end their season the previous year. Stanford, finishing with an overall record of 26-6 and a No. 13 ranking, will return three All-Americans in outside hitter Kristin Richards, middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, and setter Bryn Kehoe. In addition, outside hitter Cynthia Barboza, an alternate on the 2004 Olympic volleyball team, is expected to take to the court again after she was injured halfway through the year.
"It's going to be a great match for both programs. They are one of my teams that I would pick to go to the Final Four next year, given that they are healthy, but again for us, it's a great challenge," stated Wallace. "What I am excited for us heading into that match is our mentality and how we are going to play. If we truly believe we are good, we're going to play well. That's what I am looking forward to and that's our biggest challenge."
Santa Clara will then host Sacramento State on September 19 before battling Bay Area rivals Saint Mary's and San Francisco on September 28 and 30 in its WCC opener. The WCC was one of the strongest leagues in the country last season, only behind the Pacific 10, the Big 10 and the Big 12, and will look to maintain its status among the collegiate elite. In 2005, the league boasted five NCAA participants with Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Saint Mary's, San Diego and Santa Clara all going to the Big Dance and this year, the competition should be no different.
"I think that going into this year, our success is going to come down to our conference play. I think we are going to have a good number of ranked teams and the ones that aren't ranked will be much improved," said Wallace. "I think that Pepperdine and San Diego are going to be great, Saint Mary's is going to be very similar to what they were last year and they won a ton of matches."
Finishing off its non-conference schedule, Santa Clara will journey up to Davis, Calif. for a midweek contest on November 7 to face UC Davis and Santa Clara will finish up the season with home games at the Leavey Center against Gonzaga, Portland, and San Diego.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to ride [playing at home] into potentially hosting this year. That would be nice not to travel. It was great not having to travel very much at the end of the season because it does wear on the team," commented Wallace. "I can see the conference being won on that last Saturday. Hopefully we'll be in it and to play that match at home could be the edge that we need."