No. 11 Santa Clara Dances Through to Elite Eight
Dec. 9, 2005
Stanford, Calif. - On her 20th birthday, sophomore setter Crystal Matich couldn't have asked for a better birthday present. After dishing out 47 assists and leading Santa Clara to a .368 hitting percentage, Matich and her teammates are dancing through the postseason and will have a chance for a berth into the Final Four Saturday night after sweeping West Coast Conference rival Pepperdine in the Round of 16.
"I don't want to insult all my other birthdays, but this has to be my best birthday ever," exclaimed Matich after the Sweet Sixteen match was completed. "To win in the Sweet Sixteen on my birthday and to have a chance to compete in the Final Four is just awesome. There's nothing more that I'd want today."
Three players hit over .400 for Santa Clara (26-4, 12-2 WCC), led by middle blocker Anna Cmaylo and Annalisa Muratore. Cmaylo recorded a match-high 14 kills to go along with a .765 hitting percentage, while Muratore collected 13 kills and hit .500 for the third straight match. Senior opposite Cassie Perret hit .465 on her way to 11 kills on the night. Outside hitters Brittany Lowe and Kim McGiven also chipped in with 8 kills apiece in the 30-28, 30-23, and 30-14 victory. On the defensive end, sophomore libero Caroline Walters totaled a match-high 10 digs, while Cmaylo blocked a match-high five balls on the night. Perret and Matich also had three blocks each in the winning effort.
"That was fun, we loved it," beamed Santa Clara head coach Jon Wallace after his team's outstanding performance tonight. "The girls played great, they were focused, like I said last week, they were going to be ready to play and they were."
Santa Clara opened up the match with a 7-3 edge behind two early kills by McGiven and solid play out of the middle by Cmaylo and Muratore. After Muratore and Lowe combined for a block to make the score 11-4, Pepperdine head coach Nina Matthies used a timeout to talk things over with her squad. The Broncos continued to push the tempo of the match, extending their advantage to 10 points at 20-10 after an attack error by Waves outside hitter Julie Rubenstein. Pepperdine began to mount a rally after its offense got clicking, thanks to a strong serving run by middle blocker Lecca Roberts and powerful attacks from Rubenstein. The match was tied up at 26-26 after a Lowe attack sailed long and the Waves took the lead after Cmaylo was blocked on the following point. However, Cmaylo redeemed herself after she and Matich teamed up to roof Rubenstein on the left side to once again tie up the game. Santa Clara finished the opening frame on a strong note, receiving kills from three different players to take game one by a score of 30-28.
In the second game, Pepperdine bolted out to a 5-2 advantage, but Santa Clara battled back to tie up the frame at 6-6 after Perret and Muratore assisted on a block. The two teams traded points back and forth until the Broncos were able to break away for good thanks to some tough jump floaters, courtesy of senior Kristen Luxton. An ace by Perret made the score 14-10 in favor of SCU and Matthies burned a timeout to stop the momentum. As in game one, the Waves mounted a comeback, closing the gap to within one point at 16-15 after a Roberts kills, but the Broncos never faltered. Tenacious floor defense from Walters and outstanding play out of the middle from Muratore and Cmaylo allowed the West Coast Conference Champions to cruise the rest of the way and a thundering kill by Perret on the right side closed out game two at 30-23.
After the eight-minute intermission, Santa Clara continued to play a very determined and focused brand of volleyball, pulling out to a 9-2 lead. The Waves were able to close the gap to within four points at 10-6 after a Rubenstein kill, but a 7-1 run by the Broncos forced Matthies to call her first timeout of the game. Strong serving from all six SCU players allowed them to pull out an 11-point lead and kills from Lowe, Cmaylo and Muratore spelled doom for their WCC rivals. A combined block by Cmaylo and Matich sealed the victory for the Broncos
Santa Clara improves its record to 26-4 on the year and will play for the right to move onto the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas against either fourth-seeded Arizona or Ohio. The team is excited that they have made it this far into the NCAA Tournament, but the Broncos are nowhere near done.
"I walked into the team room right after [the win] and they yelled for about a minute and then they yelled `Who's next? Let's go prepare and get ready to play tomorrow night,'" revealed Wallace. "We're in uncharted grounds as a program, and as a team, and I think we like that. We're going to do our best to play hard and aggressive tomorrow night."