Oct. 6, 2005
Santa Clara, Calif. - Currently riding a six-match winning streak, the No. 14 Santa Clara women's volleyball team will look to continue their winning ways this Friday and Saturday when they host West Coast Conference rivals Gonzaga and Portland at the Leavey Center. Game times will be at 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. Sporting a 2-0 conference record and a 13-1 overall mark, the Broncos will have a chance to take a commanding lead in the WCC standings by the time the weekend is over.
First up for Santa Clara will be Gonzaga, who is coming off of a recent five-game victory over Portland in their WCC opener last weekend. Entering with a 9-7 overall mark and a 1-0 record in league play, the Bulldogs are led by sophomore Becky Jones' 4.11 kills per game. Also contributing in the front row are freshman Michelle Boevers and senior Lacey Bell, as they are putting down 3.61 and 2.65 kills per game, respectively. Defensively, sophomores Briawna Mueller and Kelly Steinhaus are blocking 1.19 and 1.18 balls per game, while senior Jessica Herrera is averaging 3.65 digs per game.
"Last year when we played Gonzaga here, they played us really tough. We eventually won in five and it was difficult to get that win," said Wallace. "So we are expecting them to come in, fired up with emotion and try to knock us off."
Portland comes to Santa Clara owning a 3-10 overall mark and a 0-1 record in the WCC. Sophomore Nicole Thometz recorded a career high 24 kills in the loss to Gonzaga, pushing her season average to 3.31 kills per game. She is also one of the team's leading diggers, picking up 3.41 balls per game. Junior Murphy McClenahan is one of the WCC's premier defenders, with a conference-leading 5.68 digs per game in 2005.
"Portland's coach [Doug Sparks] is a good friend of mine, so every time we play, he tries to get his team all fired up to try to beat us," said Wallace. "Our goals for the weekend are to concentrate on ourselves and really make sure we take to the court with the right focus, concentration, and desire to play hard. We feel that when we do that, we play at a high level and that's our goal for the rest of the season."
One of the reasons why Santa Clara has experienced so much success in 2005 can be attributed to its potent offense. With hitters like senior Cassie Perret, junior Kim McGiven, sophomore Anna Cmaylo, and freshman Brittany Lowe, it is easy to see why SCU accumulates 17.22 kills a game, fifth-best in the country. However, having terminating hitters is only half the battle; a team must also have a great setter to direct the offense and luckily for head coach Jon Wallace, he has one of the best young playmakers in the country in Crystal Matich. The sophomore split the setting duties with senior Kristen Luxton last season, but impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the starting nod at the beginning of the year.
Through 14 matches, Matich is averaging 13.89 assists per game, good for No. 6 in the nation. While her high assists numbers are remarkable, a better indication of Matich's setting abilities lie in the team's hitting percentage and with the Broncos putting the ball away at an efficient .319 clip, it's safe to say that she is performing at an All-American level. The Forestville, Calif. native's ability to create a favorable situation for her hitters is one of her biggest strengths and a skill that she will continue to build upon as the season continues. In addition, she has shown a greater understanding of how to run an offense at the elite level, making it easier for her teammates to put down balls.
"We're really pleased with Crystal's development. Coming into college, she was touted as a real athletic, dynamic setter and she really worked hard on being great at the little things this year: making sure she's putting up a good set, working hard to make her players better," said Wallace. "She's really dedicated herself to just do whatever the hitters need and that's the right mentality to have. She's understanding the game better and that's been a huge step for her in terms of running our offense and system better."