Dec. 7, 2005
Santa Clara, Calif. - Entering the NCAA Tournament, the Santa Clara women's volleyball team was not expected to advance far into the NCAA Tournament. After dropping three out of its last four regular season matches, SCU was not on anyone's list to make it far into the postseason especially since there was a potential second-round date with fifth-seeded and defending national champion Stanford University. However, the Broncos did not let public perception deter them from achieving their own goals and as a result, they will be playing in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history after downing the Cardinal in four-games last Saturday night.
"Our team was really confident going into the tournament. We saw how good we can be and how good we can play throughout the first 80 percent of the season," stated team co-captain Kim McGiven. "We faltered those last few matches [of the regular season], but we were able to recognize what we were doing wrong and pinpoint the problem to get over it. The tournament was a chance to come out strong and prove ourselves."
A potent offense was a key reason why Santa Clara is still alive in the postseason, as the team hit over .300 and had five players with 10 or more kills in both victories against Sacramento State and then-No. 5 Stanford. Sophomore middle blocker Annalisa Muratore and freshman outside hitter Brittany Lowe were the leaders of the pack against the Hornets, recording 17 kills apiece, while junior outside hitter Kim McGiven unloaded for 19 kills against the Cardinal. Sophomore Crystal Matich ran a smooth and lethal attack, dishing out 16.88 assists per game, while guiding the team to an excellent .343 hitting percentage in the two contests. For her efforts, Matich was named Collegiate Volleyball Update's National Player of the Week on Tuesday. Matich was not the only Bronco to pick up some hardware this week. Senior opposite Cassie Perret and sophomore middle blocker Anna Cmaylo were named to the AVCA Division I All-Region Team, while head coach Jon Wallace was tabbed as the Tachikara/AVCA Pacific Region Coach of the Year on Wednesday.
Even with their historic win over the Cardinal and all the accolades that have been bestowed upon them this past week, the Broncos are not content with just sitting on their laurels of past accomplishments.
"We didn't start the tournament to get past the second round," revealed McGiven. "We started the tournament to get to the Final Four and we're going to do everything we can to achieve that goal."
"I think if we could have played on Sunday afternoon, the girls would have been suited up and out on the court," said Wallace prior to practice on Monday afternoon. "I have a feeling they are going to want to come to practice and want to get much better to help them win on Friday."
Standing in the way of the Broncos' path to San Antonio, Texas, the site of this year's Final Four, will be a familiar foe. West Coast Conference rival Pepperdine defeated Brigham Young and then-No. 12 Southern California to advance to Friday afternoon's match-up with Santa Clara. Game time is set for 4:30 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University. The winner of that contest will face either fourth-seeded Arizona or Ohio University in the Elite Eight on Saturday evening at 8 p.m.
The Waves enter the postseason showdown with the Broncos sporting an overall record of 19-11 and this will mark the third time this season the two teams have matched up. Santa Clara won both conference matches contested earlier this year. Pepperdine qualified for the Big Dance after receiving an at-large berth due to their second-place finish in the West Coast Conference with a 10-4 mark. Freshman outside hitter Julie Rubenstein is the team's leading hitter, averaging 4.18 kills per game at a .240 hitting percentage. Middle blockers Sophia Milo and Lecca Roberts pose a difficult threat out of the middle, putting up 3.26 and 2.82 kills a game, respectively. Missy Mehlhorn directs the Waves' attack and dishes out 12.09 assists per game.
"I've always said that Pepperdine is one of the most talented teams in our conference and they have some great players on their side of their net," noted Wallace. "Pepperdine has some girls who can do things that are very high level and I know they are going to play a much better match than the last time around."
Arizona faces off against Ohio on Friday in the Sweet Sixteen with an overall record of 24-5. The Wildcats received an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament after capturing second place in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 14-4 mark. Arizona comes into this weekend's regional after taking down Utah State and Utah in the first two contests of the postseason. The outside hitter combination of Kim Glass and Jennifer Abernathy provide much of the offensive spark for Arizona, as they are averaging 5.29 and 4.04 kills per game, respectively. Opposite hitter Kristina Baum also chips in 2.34 kills per game. On the defensive end, Dominque Lamb and Bre Ladd are averaging 1.29 and 1.10 blocks per game.
Ohio will play in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history on Friday night and the team has produced one of its best seasons ever with a 33-2 overall record. The Bobcats earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament after winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament and dominated league action with an undefeated 16-0 mark. The previous weekend, Ohio defeated Alabama and Ohio State to advance to the second week of competition. Setter Savanah Para is one of the nation's top playmakers, handing out 14.83 assists per game and guiding her team to a stellar .294 hitting percentage. Four Bobcats average over three kills a game, led by middle blocker Julie Winkfield's 3.84 kills per game.