Volleyball

 

Unseeded Broncos Surprise Visitors to Semis

Dec. 14, 2005

By John Crumpacker
San Francisco Chronicle

If it is possible for a school making the national semifinals to be overlooked, Santa Clara's women's volleyball team is probably it.

Unseeded at the start of the NCAA tournament, the Broncos (27-4) dispatched Stanford, Pepperdine and Arizona to reach volleyball's Final Four for the first time in school history. They will face No. 1 Nebraska (32-1) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in one national semifinal in the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Washington (30-1) meets Tennessee (25-8) in the other semi at 4 p.m. Winners play for the national championship Saturday.

"I recognized our potential to make it this far earlier in the season,'' Santa Clara outside hitter Kim McGiven said. "Actually doing it is another thing. We were disappointed we didn't get a seed. When we didn't get it, we said we'll deal with it and still be great. We were going to go after our goals.''

This is only the fifth Santa Clara athletic team to advance to a national semifinal. Men's basketball did it in 1952, the baseball team played for the NCAA championship in 1962 and the Broncos' men's and women's soccer teams have made it that far on a number of occasions.

And now the women's volleyball team, coached by Jon Wallace.

"It means a lot to the team and the program,'' McGiven said. "It's really nice to see our program getting some recognition and respect. It's taken awhile for our program to get some respect. It's great to see Jon get some respect because he's worked really hard, and so has the staff.''

Nebraska represents a daunting challenge for the Broncos. The Cornhuskers are big, athletic and powerful and lost just once this season, to Texas on Nov. 26. In racking up 32 wins, Nebraska was extended to five games only twice. Its front line is 6-foot-2 outside hitter Christina Houghtelling, 6-5 OH Sarah Pavan, 6-2 middle blocker Melissa Elmer and 6-2 MB Amanda Gates.

"They are big and they are the best blocking team in the country,'' Wallace said. "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.''

After defeating Stanford for the first time in school history and then knocking off Arizona in five games to get this far, the Broncos are riding high with players such as McGiven with her 4.15 kills per game and libero Caroline Walters averaging 4.50 digs per game from her backcourt position.

"Our team is just ecstatic right now,'' Walters said. "We have just been living the dream this year. It's a great experience, one not many people are able to have. We're very grateful.''

Assessing Nebraska, Walters said, "They are a very, very talented team. They are extremely tall and have a quick offense. We believe with our defense we can counter-attack them.''

Might the Cornhuskers, winners of national championships in 1995 and 2000, take Santa Clara lightly while looking forward to an NCAA title game?

"I think they are, but at the same time, I think all four teams in the Final Four have respect for each other,'' Walters said. "Facing an unseeded team in the semis, they could have that attitude.''

That's fine with Santa Clara, the little team that could -- thus far, at least.