Nov. 30, 2005
Santa Clara, Calif. - Friday night will be the start of a new season for the Santa Clara women's volleyball team, as the NCAA Tournament opens up for the West Coast Conference champions just up the road in Palo Alto, Calif. The Broncos, ranked No. 15 in the country, received an automatic berth into the Big Dance after capturing the league title in mid-November and will face Sacramento State in the first round at 5 p.m. at Maples Pavilion, on the campus of Stanford University. Should Santa Clara advance to the second round, the team will play either fifth-seeded Stanford or Nevada on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Qualifying for the postseason for the eighth consecutive season, the Broncos were hoping to earn a Top-16 seed based on a 23-4 overall record, a WCC championship, and a Top-10 ranking achieved in early November. However, the selection committee decided to keep Santa Clara local and despite their disappointment about not being seeded, the team is pleased to be facing Sacramento State in the Bay Area.
"I'm excited to be playing so close to home. I think it will great for us to get some people out to the games and have that level of comfort. I think we really have a chance and I'm excited," said team co-captain Kristen Luxton.
Head coach Jon Wallace has mixed feelings about the committee's decision to keep his team in the South Bay, more so about the level of competition than anything else.
"There's good and bad to [traveling]. Whenever you have to play regional teams, it makes it tougher because you are so familiar with each other. Sometimes it is better to be shipped out and it can be an advantage," commented Wallace. "You get completely out of your region and there's a different style of volleyball. Sacramento State and Stanford are all very familiar with our game, which makes it tougher."
While the regional teams will pose a difficult test for them, Wallace's troops have had plenty of practice facing tough teams and overcoming them. The Broncos have faced the likes of fourth-seeded Arizona and Big West Co-Champion UC Santa Barbara, taming the Wildcats in four games and defeating the Gauchos in three. In addition, the West Coast Conference is rated one of the toughest leagues in the country, right behind the Pacific 10, the Big 10, and the Big 12.
"We have five teams in and I think our conference is really strong. I look at us and San Diego. We beat the No. 2 team in the Pac-10 in Arizona, San Diego beat California and Long Beach State, the winner of the Big West Conference," said Wallace. "Our conference is very strong and getting five teams [into the NCAA Tournament] is fourth best in the nation I believe... I think our conference is one of the best to play in."
About Sacramento State
The Hornets enter Friday's showdown with the Broncos sporting an overall record of 26-8 and a 13-1 mark in the Big Sky Conference. Last weekend, Sacramento split a pair of matches, defeating Pacific 3-2 and falling to No. 20 Ohio University 3-0, snapping their school-record 16 match-winning streak. Sac State qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big Sky Conference Tournament Championships, beating Eastern Washington in the finals 3-1. Five players have at least 2.00 kills per game, lead by outside hitter Atlee Hubbard, who is averaging 3.74 kills per game. On the defensive end, libero Kristin Lutes is digging up 5.68 balls per game, while middle blocker Lindsay Haupt is rejecting 1.54 attacks per game. Head coach Debby Colberg is in her 30th season at Sacramento State and has compiled an overall record of 769-277. The two teams met earlier this season on August 30 and Santa Clara came away with a 3-0 road victory.
The Cardinal begin the NCAA Tournament as the defending champions, having captured the national title just a year ago. With a record of 25-5 and a conference record of 14-4, Stanford received an at-large berth into the Big Dance. Last weekend, Stanford traveled to Los Angeles and emerged victorious against No. 16 UCLA (3-1) and No. 13 USC (3-2). Junior outside hitter Kristin Richards collected a then-career-high 31 kills against the Bruins, only to break it the following night against the Trojans, putting down 35 kills. On the year, she is averaging 4.80 kills and 3.66 digs per game. In the middle, freshman Foluke Akinradewo has been an offensive force for the Cardinal, producing 3.95 kills per game while hitting at a .403 clip. She is also the team's leading blocker, rejecting 1.03 balls per game. Head coach John Dunning is in his fifth season on The Farm and has accumulated an overall record of 145-25 in his five years at Stanford. The last time the two teams matched up, the Cardinal came away with a 3-0 win in the 2004 season.
The Wolfpack head into the NCAA Tournament with an overall record of 18-12 and a fourth-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference, boasting a mark of 10-6. This is the fourth time in five seasons that Nevada has made it to the Big Dance and the team received an at-large bid this year. Nevada is led by senior outside hitter Salaia Salave'a, who is putting down 3.99 balls per game at a .293 clip. She is also among the team's leading diggers, posting 2.31 saves per game. Carly Sorensen and Teal Ericson are also offensive threats at the net, averaging 3.41 and 3.23 kills per game. Middle blocker Karly Sipherd is the team's leading blocker, with 1.22 blocks per game over the course of the year. Devin Scruggs is in her ninth season as the head coach of the Wolfpack and has compiled an overall record of 140-94. The last time the two teams met, Santa Clara came away with a 3-2 win during the 2001 season.