September 27, 2006

No. 9 Volleyball Hits Road To Begin Defense Of WCC Crown

Sept. 27, 2006

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After 12 tough non-conference matches, the No. 9 Santa Clara University volleyball team embarks this weekend on the 14-match West Coast Conference slate in search of its second consecutive WCC title. The Broncos begin defense of their 2005 crown on the road Thursday night with a 7 p.m. battle against the Saint Mary's Gaels before closing the weekend out with a 1 p.m. match at San Francisco on Saturday.

"The team is excited to go defend their conference championship that they worked so hard to win last year," said head coach Jon Wallace. "I think that our mentality going into conference is good. Our conference is tough, Saint Mary's was ranked earlier and has had some tough losses, and San Francisco is 16-1, so they're coming in on a high for Saturday's match. I know our girls want it badly so I think they can do it."

Ninth-ranked Santa Clara (10-2) will play its 12th and 13th road contests this weekend, but with a 9-2 mark away from the Leavey Center so far in 2006, the Broncos are making a name for themselves as a solid group of "Road Warriors."

"It will be important to get some road wins [in conference] and build momentum," Wallace stated. "We're used to being on the road this year, so the girls know how to play out there. Also, the winner of our conference will not go undefeated this year, so anytime we can sneak in wins on the road, it will go a long way."

In the WCC statistics, many Broncos, as well as the combined team itself, hold lofty spots. In team standings, the Broncos lead the conference in hitting percentage (.308), and assists (15.64 per game).

Individually, Santa Clara dominates the categories, with Kim McGiven third with 4.63 kills per game, Anna Cmaylo leading the conference with a .494 hitting percentage, and Crystal Matich leading the WCC with 13.68 assists per game and fifth with 0.45 aces per game. Lindsy Evans is 10th with 0.39 aces a game, and Caroline Walters is fourth in the digs per game category with an average of 4.54.

The Gaels (5-6) come into Thursday night's match on a two-match losing streak after dropping Saturday night's non-conference contest, 3-0 to Sacramento State. After a 3-0 start to the season, the Gaels dropped four in a row, with three of those losses coming to nationally-ranked teams in Nebraska and Long Beach State. Saint Mary's is led offensively by Missie Stidham's 3.78 kills per game and Mandy Bible's 11.72 assists per game. Christina Kirk is fourth in the WCC with a .352 hitting percentage, while on the defensive side of things, Brittany Barker (1.37 blocks a game) and Kirk (1.14) sit second and third, respectively, in the conference rankings win blocks.

The Broncos and Gaels split last season's contests, with the Broncos sweeping the Gaels 3-0 at McKeon Pavilion before the Gaels captured a 3-1 victory at the Leavey Center. Santa Clara leads the overall series, 43-8 over Saint Mary's.

"[Saint Mary's players] Mandy Bible and Christina Kirk, they're great, and we know we'll have our hands full against them, but again, our girls are ready," said Wallace about Thursday's opponent. "They've played against them now for two to three years, so they know what they're about, and Saint Mary's knows what we're about."

The Dons (16-1) are off to their best start in school history as they have run off 14 consecutive victories heading into this weekend's WCC action. San Francisco will open their conference slate up with a Thursday night match against San Diego before hosting the Broncos Saturday afternoon. USF captured its fourth straight tournament title this past weekend, winning three in a row at the Long Island Blackbird Invitational over the host Blackbirds, Cornell, and Saint Francis (NY). On the season, the Dons are paced by reigning WCC Player of the Week Alix Gombos, who sits third in the WCC with a .354 hitting percentage and fourth with 1.13 blocks a game. Junior outside hitter Kristin Hasselberg is second in the conference with 4.65 kills per game, while Haley Carroll paces the loop with 5.32 digs a game.

Overall, Santa Clara leads the all-time series over San Francisco by a staggering 52-4 margin, and has won the last 32 meetings between the two schools dating back to the 1990 season. Last season, the Broncos captured both meetings by a score of 3-1.

"San Francisco is playing very steady, not giving up any points, making other teams have to beat them and they've raised their level of play," Wallace said about the Dons. "Behind all of that, they have great confidence, going 16-1, [head coach] Jeff Nelson has done a great job of preparing them to take on this conference schedule."

Following this weekend's action, the Broncos will return home to the Leavey Center for only the second time this season as they will host the Pepperdine Waves Thursday night, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. and close out the weekend with a 1 p.m. match on Saturday, Oct. 7 against the Loyola Marymount Lions.