Nov. 2, 2005
Santa Clara, Calif. - At the beginning of the season, not much was expected out of the Santa Clara women's volleyball team. Despite being ranked in the Top 25 throughout the entire regular season in 2004, the Broncos found themselves unranked in the pre-season CSTV/AVCA Top 25 poll. In addition, no respect was found within its own league, as Santa Clara was picked to finish third in the West Coast Conference even with four All-WCC players returning to the court.
The lack of initial press and fanfare only made the Broncos work harder to prove that they deserved the respect of an elite team. Team co-captains Kristen Luxton, a senior, and Kim McGiven, a junior, came up with a blueprint for the upcoming year that outlined the team's goals of winning the West Coast Conference championship and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. And thus far in the season, Santa Clara has followed the pair's plan to perfection.
With victories over perennial powerhouse Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this past weekend, Santa Clara owns an unblemished 9-0 mark in WCC action and boasts an overall record of 20-1. SCU is riding on a 13-match winning streak and could break the school record of 14 consecutive victories with a sweep of Portland and Gonzaga this upcoming Friday and Saturday. As the season progresses and the W's continue to pile up, Santa Clara's rise through the CSTV/AVCA Top 25 poll has been nothing short of amazing and is currently ranked No. 11, tying the 2002 squad for the highest ranking in program history.
"We are very pleased that the AVCA considers us one of the top teams in the country. Our No. 11 ranking is really motivating the girls to push even harder in practices and games to move even higher in the rankings," stated head coach Jon Wallace.
While Santa Clara has received many great individual performances thus far in 2005, Wallace recognizes it is the efforts and contributions of the entire team that is responsible for the successful season. Spearheading the thriving Bronco campaign are Luxton and McGiven, who as co-captains have instilled into their teammates a hard-working attitude throughout practices and a never-give-up mentality during matches. As upperclassmen, their guidance and support have enabled other members of the SCU ball club to flourish out on the court and people are taking notice. Senior Cassie Perret has twice been named the WCC Player of the Week this season, along with garnering Santa Clara's first ever AVCA/Sports Imports National Player of the Week award. Freshman Brittany Lowe has won the WCC Player of the Week award three times in 2005, the most of any player in the conference, while McGiven herself earned the weekly accolade in early September.
Aside from the great leadership skills from his co-captains, Wallace credits a balanced offense for many of the victories. On any given night, the Broncos can count on McGiven, Perret, Lowe, or sophomore Anna Cmaylo to power the offense, as each are putting up over three kills per game. In addition, a strong passing rotation has put the attackers in position to rack up kills against opposing teams at an incredible .319 clip, one of the highest hitting percentages in the country.
"We have four attackers who are hitting at a high level. We play teams now the second time around in conference, and if they try to take one or two girls out, the other two will step up and do a nice job," said Wallace. "We have three great passers in Cassie Perret, Brittany Lowe, and Caroline Walters that allows us to stay in system more often than other teams."
Another reason why Santa Clara has been so difficult to defeat this year is because of its dedication to playing defense. Although the blocking and digging numbers don't jump out at the casual fan, the Broncos have done an excellent job at containing their opponent's offense, holding team's to a paltry .163 hitting percentage. While one would assume that it is Santa Clara's front- and back-court defense that is producing such low hitting numbers for the opposition, Wallace believes that good defense begins with a strong serve that can disrupt the offensive game plan of the other side.
"Our defense has quietly been really good, in the sense that we are holding other team's to a really low hitting percentage. It really starts with the serving and we have six girls who go back there and really concentrate on getting a tough serve," commented Wallace. "It's not necessarily always about getting aces, but just to get the other team in trouble and make their offense more predictable. So our serving has really allowed the team to hold our opponents to really low hitting percentages."
The deadly combination of a potent offense and a stingy defense will be on full display this weekend, when Santa Clara travels up north to the Pacific Northwest to challenge Portland (4-16, 1-7 WCC) and Gonzaga (15-6, 2-6 WCC). The Pilots captured their first WCC victory by sweeping the visiting Bulldogs 30-18, 30-23, and 30-21 last Saturday. Sophomore Nicole Thometz is Portland's leading attacker, putting down 3.28 kills per game. Three other players are hovering just under 3.00 kills per game to give senior Sheena Surplus many options on offense. Defensively, senior Monique Kettler and sophomore Murphy McClenahan are the Pilot's top defenders, averaging 0.64 blocks and 5.01 digs per game. Despite their lack of success this season, Portland is not a team that will be taken lightly by Santa Clara come Friday.
"You can expect to see a team that is coming off of its first conference win and they will be hungry to beat a ranked team," said assistant coach Dustin Moore. "They will play well and anytime you go on the road in conference, it's going to be a battle."
The following night, the Bulldogs will be waiting for the Broncos and they will be hungry for an upset, especially after losing to the last-place Pilots. Sophomore outside hitter Becky Jones is the team's leading attacker at 3.90 kills per game, though freshman Michelle Boevers is not that far behind with 3.40 kills per game. Sophomore Briawna Mueller is the top blocker on the squad, with 1.18 blocks per game, while senior Jessica Herrera is averaging a team-leading 3.48 digs per game.
"Traditionally, Gonzaga has always been a tough place for us to play and I don't expect anything different this year," stated Moore. "I think every team in the WCC will be looking to upset a ranked team. Gonzaga wants to win, just like any other team in our conference."