Dec. 13, 2005
Santa Clara, Calif. - Taking on the No.1 team in the country in front of thousands of screaming fans might be a daunting task for most teams, but for No. 11 Santa Clara, the opportunity to play top-ranked Nebraska in the national semi-finals Thursday night at the Alamodome will be a challenge they will embrace wholeheartedly.
"I talked to Kim McGiven the other day and she was so pumped up for this week," recalled head coach Jon Wallace. "She told me, `I'm so excited. I just want to play Nebraska.' That's something I love to hear."
McGiven has reason to look forward to the 6:30 p.m. PST contest, to be aired live by ESPNU, especially after her performance in the regional finals against fourth-seeded Arizona. In a thrilling five games, the Broncos outlasted the Wildcats and McGiven was a big reason why her team is on its way to San Antonio, Texas, the site of this year's national volleyball championships, today. After putting down a team-high 25 kills, including one that set-up the team's second and final match point, the 6-1 outside hitter was named the Palo Alto Regional Co-MVP. It was her clutch hitting in the final frame that allowed her team to advance to the national semi-finals, the farthest Santa Clara has gone in the postseason in 10 tries.
"Kim, at the time in game five, had an incredible game and wanted to finish it off," Wallace. "We felt really comfortable going to her and we knew we would get something good out of every swing she took. She wanted the ball and we kept on going to her."
Wallace also points to the crisp passing of Santa Clara's back row trio of outside hitter Brittany Lowe, opposite Cassie Perret and libero Caroline Walters as a reason to the team's success. In addition, Walters played spectacular defense that often sparked the Broncos in many long rallies and her on-court presence was just as valuable as McGiven's kills that night.
"Caroline Walters stepped up big time," declared Wallace. "She got everyone going that night. She was not only amazing digging those hard-driven shots, but all the little plays and tips. She wanted to dig [Arizona's All-American] Kim Glass so badly."
Although the historical milestone has set the stage for future success at Santa Clara, the volleyball team will be focused on everyrthing that San Antonio has to offer.
"To be honest, I'm more excited for the girls who get to go through this experience," confessed Wallace. "It's going to be awesome for them to be playing in front of a big crowd and it will be a rewarding life experience for them."
"For me personally, it's a reward for all the hard work and hours that I put in," added Wallace. "It's something you strive for especially if you want to win and to get a taste of this is a great feeling."
The Cornhuskers enter Thursday's showdown with the Broncos as the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. Nebraska, sporting an overall record of 32-1, reached the Final Four after downing UCLA and Florida last weekend by identical 3-0 scores. The team qualified for the tournament after winning the Big 12 Conference with a 19-1 mark. Opposite Sarah Pavan is the leading attacker on the squad, with 3.78 kills per game, though outside hitter Christina Houghtelling is not far behind with 3.71 kills per game. Fellow outside hitters Jennifer Saleauma and Jordan Larson are great all-around talents for Nebraska, combing for 5.19 kills and 6.60 digs per game. On defense, middle blocker Melissa Elmer leads the nation in blocking, with 2.03 rejections per game.
"They are big and they are the best blocking team in the country. I know they are very well-coached and very well organized. We'll just have to find a way to beat them and sell it to the girls that there is a way to beat them."
Should Santa Clara advance to Saturday's 3 p.m. championship final, they will face either No. 3 Washington (30-1) or No. 17 Tennessee (25-8). The Huskies received an automatic bid into the Big Dance after capturing the Pacific-10 Conference with a 17-1 mark. No. 3 Washington reached San Antonio after defeating two Big-10 schools, Purdue and Wisconsin, by identical 3-0 scores. Opposite Sanja Tomasevic, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and outside hitter Christal Morrison lead the attack for the Huskies, averaging 4.53 and 4.30 kills per game, while outside hitter Brie Hagerty also chips in with 3.63 kills per game. Setter Courtney Thompson has guided her squad to a national-leading .341 hitting percentage all while dishing out 14.83 assists per game. The middle blocking tandem of Alesha Deesing and Darla Myhre have combined for 2.57 blocks per game, while libero Candace Lee is digging 4.94 balls per game.
Tennessee will play in the Final Four for the first time in school history Thursday night and the Lady Vols received an at-large berth into the Big Dance after placing second in the Southeastern Conference with a 13-3 mark. As the 15th seed in the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee took out second-seeded Penn State in four games on its home court in the Sweet Sixteen and then defeated Missouri 3-1 in the Elite Eight to punch its ticket to the Alamodome. Outside hitter Yuliya Stoyanova and middle blocker Kristen Andre are quite the one-two punch for the Lady Vols, posting 4.01 and 3.52 kills per game. Middle blocker Sarah Blum is the team's leading defender up at the net, recording 1.53 blocks per game, while libero Amy Morris is a defensive standout in the back row with 4.68 digs per game.