November 1, 2007

After slow start, volleyball continues win streak

Nov. 1, 2007

The Santa Clara

By Nicholas Pinkerton

After a disappointing start to their season, the Santa Clara volleyball team is dominating West Coast Conference play, most recently stringing together five consecutive victories.

"We're playing much better volleyball, we're understanding our roles and our expectations on ourselves, and we're playing within ourselves, which is really important," said Head Coach Jon Wallace.

The Broncos were able to keep their win streak alive this past week with victories over Gonzaga and Portland. Santa Clara earned their eighth win in 10 matches. Both weekend victories came in dominating 3-0 sweeps.

The team has completely turned its season around after opening the year 8-7.

"I think a month ago, if you would have asked us if we thought we would have been in this position, all of us probably would have laughed because of our injuries and the setbacks our team has had this year," said senior Caroline Walters.

The team is currently 8-1 in conference play and leads No. 15 University of San Diego by 1.5 games. The Broncos are 16-9 overall.

As far as actual playing style, Wallace has been stressing technical issues in serving and passing throughout the season.

"Coach Wallace always stresses that the team that's going to win is the one that wins the serve and pass game," said Walters.

This adjustment in focus has aided the Broncos' offensive game plan. The team no longer bases their game plan on a powerful serve, but rather a fluid offensive system.

"It was small technique things in our passing, with our footwork, we discovered, that we kind of cleaned up a couple weeks back," said Wallace. "It's putting our kids in better positions offensively so they can attack the ball better and feel good about what they're doing."

These improvements have not accounted for all of the success, however. The Broncos have also been working on their group mentality and believe they are a more confident team than they were earlier in the season.

"We weren't comfortable with how we were preparing for teams mentally and emotionally," said Wallace.

The team has found a way to solve that by taking game scores out of the equation.

"What we're trying to get our group to do is fight for every point, concentrate and focus on every point regardless of the score, regardless of whether you're up or down in games," said Wallace. "I think if you were to say, 'Hey you won three straight,' that's not really what we're looking for. We're looking for more of the style, more of the journey, of how we got to that point."

The Broncos have recently taken a more hard-nosed approach when they're not on top of their game.

"I think maybe earlier in the season we gave up easier than we do now. Mentally, we've gotten tougher," said junior Brittany Lowe.

Wallace added that the physical adjustments the team has made have boosted the team's morale.

"With a winning streak you get confidence, and I think that's exactly what we need to pull off a win in this conference hopefully," said Walters.

The Broncos will play two critical home games this week, one versus the University of San Francisco tonight and one against San Diego on Saturday.

The Dons handed the team their only conference loss this season, and the Broncos will need to properly prepare for a squad that is fresh off a 3-0 sweep of San Diego.

"To avenge that loss, I think we have to look at film and start preparing for them tomorrow in practice, setting up our defense around them and deciding what plays to run," said Walters.

The two matches mark the final two home games for seniors Caroline Walters and Crystal Matich.

"It's going to be an emotional day on Saturday," said Lowe. "It's a bittersweet kind of thing."