Volleyball

 

SCU Women are Hitting New Heights

Dec. 8, 2005

By Dylan Hernandez
The San Jose Mercury

The Santa Clara women's volleyball team is making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. But to Coach Jon Wallace, the bigger news is how the Broncos reached this stage: by beating Stanford.

The victory Sunday at Stanford was Santa Clara's first against the national powerhouse, ending a streak of 19 losses.

Friday, the Broncos will return to Maples Pavilion to face Pepperdine in the Stanford Regional semifinals. A victory over their West Coast Conference rival -- SCU has beaten Pepperdine twice this season -- would put the Broncos in the final eight on Saturday at Stanford.

The final four will be played Dec. 15-17 at San Antonio.

``I can almost taste it,'' outside hitter Cassie Perret said.

``It seems unreal,'' said Kristen Luxton, a setter and team co-captain.

There were clues in the regular season of what was to come. The Broncos (25-4) had a 15-game winning streak, won the WCC and, in November, cracked the top 10 of the national rankings for the first time.

Perret was named the conference's player of the year, becoming only the third Bronco to win the award. Brittany Lowe was freshman of the year, and Wallace was coach of the year.

Wallace became coach in 1999, leading the Broncos to the second round of the NCAA tournament his first two seasons. The Broncos returned to the postseason in each of the previous four years, but failed to make it out of the opening round.

What propelled the Broncos to unprecedented heights was a third-place WCC finish in 2004, their worst in five years.

``We under-performed, considering the physical talent we had,'' said co-captain and outside hitter Kim McGiven. ``It left everyone a little uneasy. That's not the direction we wanted to go.''

So when the season ended, Wallace began calling meetings. He had the team set concrete goals, the most prominent being to win the WCC. And for the first time, he had the players choose their own team captains. The process of selecting Luxton and McGiven took nearly two months.

The turning point, as far as the players are concerned, came in a mid-August practice. Wallace, sensing that his team was playing with ``fake fire'' -- being loud but unfocused -- ordered the players to run. And run. And run.

``Under poor leaders, that would've been bad,'' Wallace said. But Luxton and McGiven ``spun it in a positive way.''

Luxton said, ``Everyone bought into the reason for running.''

The extra attention to detail carried the Broncos to a 7-0 start, the best in school history. It carried them to 15 consecutive victories in the middle of the season. It carried them to victory Sunday over Stanford; the Broncos lost the first game, then won the next three.

It was a significant milestone for a team that had never gotten out of the second round, had never beaten Stanford and lives in the shadow of what might be the most-storied program in women's college volleyball.

``We've always been second-best around here,'' McGiven said.

``We just closed the gap,'' Wallace said.