December 15, 2005

We're In It To Win It

Dec. 15, 2005

By Dylan Hernandez
San Jose Mercury News

However improbable it was for them to get this far and however improbable it is for them to win again, the Santa Clara Broncos aren't content with merely being one of the four remaining teams in the NCAA women's volleyball tournament.

``We're not going out there to celebrate making the Final Four,'' co-captain Kim McGiven said before the team departed for San Antonio.

``We're going out to win a national championship.'' Today, the 11th-ranked Broncos (27-4) face their most daunting task yet: a meeting with No. 1 Nebraska (32-1) in the national semifinals at the Alamodome. The winner plays for the title Saturday against Tennessee or Washington.

``We're confident,'' senior outside hitter Cassie Perret said. ``We know how good we are. We're not going to be intimidated.''

The crowd alone could be intimidating; Nebraska has what might be the largest fan base in the country. The Cornhuskers drew an NCAA postseason-record 15,119 fans to their victory over Florida in the Omaha Regional final. Many of those fans are expected to be in attendance today.

As for the Nebraska team, Santa Clara Coach Jon Wallace described it as ``big and physical with highly skilled volleyball athletes.''

And nearly unbeatable, he might have added.

Led by Big 12 Conference player of the year Sarah Pavan, the two-time national champions didn't lose until their regular-season finale Nov. 26 against Texas. The Huskers haven't dropped a game in the postseason.

McGiven noted the different paths Santa Clara and Nebraska took to the Final Four -- ``We've battled all hell to get here,'' she remarked -- but she said that could favor the Broncos. If the match enters a fourth or fifth game, McGiven said, the Broncos can draw from positive experiences such as their dramatic five-game victory over Arizona in the Palo Alto Regional final.

And, McGiven added, ``We have an All-American on our team.''

That would be Perret, who today will be named the first first-team All-American in the program's history.

Perret's individual achievements, coupled with those of the team, ensure the Broncos will return from Texas with the profile of their program raised significantly, regardless of today's result.

SCU women's soccer coach Jerry Smith knows what a difference a Final Four appearance can make. Smith's 1989 team became the first women's team at Santa Clara to qualify for the NCAA tournament, and went on to reach the College Cup, soccer's equivalent of the Final Four.

Smith has gone on to build what is arguably the top program in its field, one that has won a national championship and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament each of the past 11 seasons.

``I don't think it's possible to measure the ripple effect in coaching confidence, in player confidence and in recruiting,'' Smith said.

Athletic Director Dan Coonan said he expects the ripple effect to be felt by the university's entire sports department, which has won two national championships -- in women's soccer in 2001 and in men's soccer in 1989.

``We're viewed in some circles as a soccer school,'' Coonan said. ``But we're so much more than that. It's great this can be a focal point.''