Aug. 25, 2009
Santa Clara, Calif. - Many clichés can be used to describe the beginning of the 2009 Santa Clara volleyball season as the No. 20/25 Broncos open at the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational, a tough three-day invitational at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu Aug. 28-30.
"Fresh as a daisy."
"Hit the ground running."
"Get on the same page."
Regardless, Bronco head coach Jon Wallace, who enters his 11th season with a 213-88 career record, will bring 11 underclassmen to the island of Oahu for a stiff test vs. No. 9 UCLA on Aug. 28 at 8 pm, at No. 7 Hawaii on Aug. 29 at 10 pm and vs. 2008 Sweet 16 participant Western Michigan on Aug. 30 at 2 pm (all times Pacific). The Hawaii match can be heard over the Internet on espn1420am.com. Livestats for all three matches will be available through UH's website at hawaiiathletics.com, through the schedule link.
Santa Clara last played Hawaii in 2007 at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge in Honolulu and lost 3-1. The Broncos faced the Bruins and lost 3-0 in 2004 at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Challenge in Honolulu. All told, Santa Clara is 1-2 vs. UCLA and 0-7 vs. Hawaii. It is the first meeting between the two Bronco teams, Santa Clara and Western Michigan.
"It's a weekly challenge for us to continue to take steps towards becoming a better team," said Wallace, who has led the Broncos to 10 straight NCAA Tournaments, including the 2005 Final Four, three WCC titles and top three finishes in the league in nine of the last 10 years. "We will use the next three or four weeks to grow into what we hope is another post-season NCAA Tournament team. We have good, young talented players that we love and getting them to gel together and execute is taking time. It's getting better everyday - our mindset is positive as we improve daily."
Santa Clara lost seven letterwinners from last year's NCAA Tournament second round team, including Anna Cmaylo, a three-time All-American who led the team with 2.98 kills a game, hitting .376. Tanya Schmidt was second on the team with 1.74 kpg and 0.67 bpg, hitting .301. Lindsy Davigeadono, who will work as an outside hitter this year, was the team's setter last year due to injury. Davigeadono hit .279 during the year and put up 10.74 apg with 21 service aces and 0.97 kpg.
"I wouldn't say this is a rebuilding year for us because talent-wise it's there, but we have different skill sets that need to be put in place," said Wallace. "I feel very strongly about the direction and depth of the program. We have had a new influx of players and positions players that have developed in this system and we look to maximize their skill sets. With that being said, we know it's going to take some time."
Santa Clara has two seniors - Davigeadono (6-3, OH) and Kim Courtney (5-10, OH/L), three juniors - SJSU transfer Emily Burke (5-10, S), Morgan Doherty (5-8, L/DS) and 2007 WCC Freshman of the Year Krista Kelley (6-1, OH); and 11 underclassmen. The 11 underclassmen include Schmidt (6-2, MB), a member of the All-WCC Freshman team in 2008.
The 2009 recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the WCC and No. 11 nationally and includes six first-year players: Katie Borden (5-7, L/DS), Katherine Douglas (6-1, OH), Kayla Lommori (6-0, OH), Alexandra Palmer (5-7, S), Sam Peters (6-1, MB) and Lexi Williamson (6-1, OH). All the freshmen with the exception of Williamson, who has a broken finger, are expected to play this weekend.
When asked if he scheduled too aggressively to begin 2009 with so much youth on the roster, he shook Wallace head no.
"I do think right out of the shoot playing these top teams will be difficult, but the more that I get to know the character of this team - the more I think we are going to be fine," said Wallace. "We are going to go there and compete; and whether we win or not is not going to matter to this group because we know that our journey is to get better every day. That will happen. They are committed to getting better and their focus on this one match vs. Hawaii or UCLA or Western Michigan is not going to be our season. The women on this team came here because they want to play in these types of matches - that's the kind of character we have. We want to play the best and we want to compete against the best. That's encouraging."
The Bronco coaching staff, which includes Wallace, associate head coach Dustin Moore and assistant coaches Will Yuen and Debra Robertson, knows this weekend is just one of a 13-week regular season as they prepare for the school's 12th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
"The difficulty is these young ladies came here to win, to be a highly-ranked team and beat highly-ranked programs. We maybe not be ready right now to do that, but we want and look forward to that challenge," said Wallace.
Wallace has a line-up in his mind for Friday's UCLA match, which will include running a 6-2 system with setters Emily Burke and Alexandra Palmer moving in and out of the line-up. "It will give us the strongest option going into this weekend," said Wallace.
"This team is plotting up the hill right now - if I can use a cliché," said Wallace. "We are going to get to the top and be really good. We are committed to getting better and that's enjoyable. The continuing maturity of the young kids and seeing that is exciting."
Wallace, who said the team looks at the challenges ahead of them this weekend with positive energy, has to remember it's one day at time right now.
"At the end of the season we know we are going to be good and right now we need a strong test," said Wallace. "It'll be fun to see how they respond and I am sure we are going to have to talk to a few of them, but I think this is why they came to Santa Clara - to play tough teams. This weekend we'll see what we are made of."