December 3, 2005

No. 15 Broncos Advance to Sweet Sixteen of NCAA Tournament

Dec. 3, 2005

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Stanford, Calif. - In another season of firsts, the Santa Clara women's volleyball team upset Bay Area rival and fifth-seeded Stanford in four games to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history.  On their twentieth try against the Cardinal, the No. 15 Broncos pulled out an inspiring victory behind a loud and boisterous crowd and to say that the team was excited is an understatement.

"Wow. That was awesome," exclaimed Santa Clara head coach Jon Wallace. "The big picture: it's the first time in school history we beat Stanford. It's the first time in school history we've ever been in the round of 16. That's `wow'. That's awesome."

After capturing the West Coast Conference and catapulting into the Top 10 earlier this season, the Broncos came into the NCAA Tournament with a lot of confidence and tonight's play showed it. Despite dropping the first game by a score of 23-30, Santa Clara refocused to take the rest of the games by scores of 30-19, 30-27, and 31-29.

"The first game we were a little shaky but I think in the second game we really picked it up. We were just riding that momentum. We were confident and really determined and focused," explained senior opposite Cassie Perret. "We didn't let the first game loss get to us. We just rode our second game win and went with it."

As a team, Santa Clara hit a stellar .393 and they had five players hit over .300 in the 23-30, 30-19, 30-27, and 31-29 triumph. Junior outside hitter Kim McGiven led the way with 19 kills, while sophomore middle blocker Annalisa Muratore notched 16 kills in the winning effort. Sophomore middle blocker Anna Cmaylo and freshman outside hitter Brittany Lowe chipped in 14 and 12 kills, respectively, while senior opposite Cassie Perret rounded out the scorers with 10 kills. Sophomore setter Crystal Matich distributed the ball wonderfully, totaling 66 assists and added six kills of her own. On defense, sophomore libero Caroline Walters dug a match-high 18 balls, while McGiven and Lowe tallied 12 and 10 digs, respectively. Up at the net, Cmaylo collected three blocks on the night to lead Santa Clara.

In the opening game, Stanford built a 7-2 lead behind two early kills and an ace by outside hitter Kristin Richards, prompting Wallace to call a timeout. On the ensuing play, a back-row kill by McGiven got Santa Clara rolling and an ace by Lowe and a solo block by Perret closed the gap to two points. A kill by Cmaylo tied the game up at 14-14 and the two teams battled back and forth for much of the frame. Both teams were running an efficient offense, garnering much of their points off of kills and for Santa Clara, McGiven and Cmaylo were doing much of the damage. The Cardinal went on a 3-0 run to take a 22-19 advantage over the Broncos, forcing Wallace to use his second timeout of game one. SCU was unable to recover from its deficit and a kill by Akinradewo gave the home team the 30-23 victory.

Santa Clara held a quick 3-1 edge after a back-row kill by Lowe and strong net play by Cmaylo and McGiven enabled the visitors to hold the early lead. The Broncos lead by as many as seven points behind the strong net defense of Cmaylo and Lowe and great floor defense helped Santa Clara bolt out in front in game two, with Walters making one spectacular play after another in the back row. Another McGiven kill pushed SCU's lead to 20-12, causing Dunning to call a timeout. Cmaylo continued to be a force out of the middle, as she powered the Broncos' offense on numerous occasions. Santa Clara easily rolled to the 30-19 triumph, after McGiven sealed game two with another kill.

After the eight-minute intermission, two early kills by Muratore gave her team the slim 4-3 lead and Matich extended it to two points after a sly dump. A kill by Lowe pushed SCU's edge to 12-7 and Dunning used a timeout to talk things over with his players. The Broncos maintained a healthy advantage for the majority of game and back-to-back Cardinal attacking errors prompted Dunning to use one of hits timeouts with his team trailing 22-17. Stanford closed the gap to three at 25-22 after outside hitter Erin Waller snuck the ball through the double block, but two kills by McGiven silenced the Cardinal threat. A rally by the Cardinal brought them to within one point at 27-26, but Santa Clara held on to take game three 30-27 after a miscue on the Cardinal's side.

The Cardinal came out strong in the opening moments of the fourth game with Akinradewo dominating the net with her blocking and attacking skills. An attack error by Cmaylo prompted Wallace to use an early timeout to regroup his troops. The Broncos responded with strong play on both the offensive and defensive ends and two tough serves by freshman Nichole Clark tied the frame up at 11-11, forcing Dunning to call a timeout after watching his team's lead evaporate. The home team went on a 5-0 run to make the score 16-11 and Wallace used his second timeout of the game to talk strategy with his squad. The Broncos came within three points at 22-20 after McGiven put down a cross-court kill and an attack error by Cardinal setter Katie Goldhahn made the score 22-21, forcing Dunning to call a timeout of his own. Santa Clara's rally was complete when Clark served an ace, tying up the game at 24-24. The Broncos took the lead at 26-25 after Richards' attack sailed wide and another Richards error gave the visitors a two-point advantage at 27-25. SCU reached match-point after Muratore forced the ball through the block at 29-28, but a tip by opposite Nji Nnamani tied it up again. Muratore set her team up again at match point with a tip and an attack error by Akinradewo gave Santa Clara a 31-29 victory.

Santa Clara improves its overall record to 25-4 on the year and will play WCC rival Pepperdine in the Sweet Sixteen for the right to advance to the Elite Eight next weekend at Palo Alto Regional, hosted by Stanford University. Even with the record-breaking performance, the Broncos are ready for the challenge.

"We're going to be ready. This team's hungry. They'll be ready next weekend," stated Wallace. "Our confidence is only getting higher. You never know win or loss but I'll guarantee you will have a strong, strong effort next weekend and a brand of volleyball that all of you will love to watch."