Sept. 6, 2006
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The last time the Santa Clara University women's volleyball team visited Texas, the Broncos were preparing to do battle in the Final Four in San Antonio and were being feted for their upset run to the national semifinals. This weekend, the No. 4 Broncos return to the Lone Star State, this time to Austin, to face a pair of early-season tests in the seventh-ranked Texas Longhorns and No. 15 Missouri Tigers.
SCU (5-0) and Texas will start off the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational with a 4:30 p.m. PT contest from Gregory Gym Thursday afternoon. The Broncos will then conclude tournament action Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. against Missouri.
Last weekend, Santa Clara continued their dominant start to 2006 with two more sweeps, this time over Valparaiso and then-No. 21 Notre Dame. Crystal Matich paced the team with 14.17 assists a game and guided the offense to a superb hitting percentage of .406. For her solid performance, Matich was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week this past Monday.
Also on Monday, the latest CSTV/AVCA poll revealed that the Broncos had moved up two spots from No. 6 to No. 4, equaling the program's highest-ever national ranking, which had first been reached in the 2005 final poll.
"We're very thankful to be ranked as high as fourth, and the girls are beginning to truly believe that they are one of the elite teams in the nation, but you have to prove it on the court, and they know that." said Santa Clara head coach Jon Wallace. "They're excited to go play Texas. It is going to be tougher on the road, but our girls don't care. They just want to go out there and play good teams and they're really looking forward to playing both Texas and Missouri this coming weekend."
Another milestone is on the cusp of being reached this weekend as well, that being Wallace's pursuit of the Santa Clara volleyball program's record for all-time career victories by a head coach. Currently, Wallace has 161 victories to his credit in his seven-plus seasons at SCU, and one more win will tie him for the career lead at 162 with Mary Ellen Murchison, who oversaw the team from 1978-88. When informed of being within reach of the honor, Wallace modestly responded to the possibility.
"I haven't thought about it at all, and that may just be a result of my being here so long," Wallace cracked with a laugh. "But that really doesn't matter to me, it's for the girls, and we feel that we are on the verge of a pretty special season and we just want to keep that going as coaches. We want our group of 16 to look back on the 2006 season as the time of their lives. If we get a lot of wins along the way, well, records are records, so we'll see."
The seventh-ranked Longhorns (4-1) enter this weekend on the heels of a performance in the Asics Classic which saw them drop their first match of the season, a 3-2 decision to then-unranked Cal Poly. But so far in the 2006 season, Texas boasts victories over three ranked opponents, defeating Wisconsin in the season opener on Aug. 25 before capturing the AVCA Showcase title with win over then-No. 3 Washington and then-No. 19 Pepperdine. Guided by fifth-year head coach Jerritt Elliott, the Longhorns are led by setter Michelle Moriarty, who paces the offense with 13.42 assists a game and was named AVCA National Player of the Week on Aug. 29 for her performance at the AVCA Showcase, and senior outside hitter Dariam Acevedo, who totalled 55 kills at a .291 clip in being named to the Asics Challenge All-Tournament team.
The No. 15 Tigers (6-1) come into tournament action in Austin riding a Texas-sized wave of momentum following a week which saw them win four matches and capture the Shamrock Invitational title. Missouri defeated Arkansas-Little Rock 3-0 before dispatching Idaho and Valparaiso in tournament play before wrapping the Invitational up with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the host Fighting Irish. Senior outside hitter Jessica Vander Kooi was named the Big 12 Player of the Week Monday after notching 5.00 kills, 4.40 digs, 1.33 blocks, and 0.87 aces a game over the four matches, including a 30-kill, 25-dig performance against Notre Dame. Junior libero Tatum Ailes also notched 7.00 digs a game last week to pace the Tiger defense.
Following this weekend's action, the Broncos will return to the Bay Area, where they will embark on a four-match week starting with the annual Rivalry Series tilt with the San Jose State Spartans Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Spartan Gym.
The team will then head 30 minutes north up I-280 to participate in the Stanford Invitational Thursday and Saturday, Sept. 14 and 16. No. 4 Santa Clara will face host No. 8 Stanford in a rematch of last season's NCAA second-round battle before pulling double-duty on Saturday with matches against UC Irvine at 12 p.m. and Georgetown at 7 p.m.