October 1, 2009

Volleyball ready to open WCC season at USF

Oct. 1, 2009

Santa Clara, 10-5, will open the 2009 West Coast Conference schedule with the first three volleyball matches on the road, including its first WCC match at San Francisco on Fri., Oct. 2 at 7 pm. USF enters the match at 6-7 on the season after defeating CSU Bakersfield 3-1 on Sept. 26.

"The preseason was good for us. We experienced a lot and we knew going into the season we were going to be very young and have to do a lot of teaching. We needed 16 young women to go in the same direction and at times it was hard," said Bronco head coach Jon Wallace. "We won some matches and we lost some in different ways. The five losses we have the team has learned from. Going into WCC play on Friday, the team is ready for it and are much better because of the preseason."

Santa Clara finished fourth in the WCC last year and was picked fourth in the 2009 preseason poll. Santa Clara is looking for its 12th straight NCAA Tournament bid after advancing the NCAA Tournament's second round last season. Santa Clara has 11 underclassmen and signed the top-ranked recruiting class in the WCC and 11th-best nationally.

"I don't think we are as concerned with the youth anymore as much as we are concerned with the continuity as a team with some of the recent injuries," added Wallace, who hasn't started the regular line-up in more than two weeks. "We want to be good and we want to be good right now; and we haven't been able to do that because of the injuries."

As far as the 11 underclassmen, Wallace likes what he has seen of Kayla Lommori, Katherine Douglas and Dana Knudsen. "Kat has been put in every situation possible and performed very well Kayla is playing great and is past her learning curve and is ready to compete."

Santa Clara is led by this week's WCC Player of the Week, freshman-redshirt middle blocker Dana Knudsen, who is hitting .367 this season. Knudsen leads the starters with her hitting percentage. She is averaging 2.4 kpg and .9 bpg in 55 sets played. Knudsen leads the team with 49 total blocks and her 129 kills this season are second-best on the team.

Knudsen hit .431 and collected her second-straight all-tournament honors at the Penn Invitational last weekend. Knudsen collected a career-high 15 kills vs. Albany and averaged 3.3 kpg and 1.1 bpg in three matches.

"Dana has taken huge strides and has been a real surprise for us this season after where she came from last year,'" said Wallace. "She is enjoying posing her will on the opponent. Kat has also done a great job, but we expected that from her. Both Lexi Williamson and Kayla Lommori have tremendous talent and will play a lot going forth."

On the other side of the net, USF is led by Sarah Mandala, who was named the Co-Player of the Month for September, after posting an outstanding September, hitting double figure kills in all 10 of the Dons' matches, including four matches with 20-plus kills. During the month, Mandala posted three double-doubles and recorded her 1,000th career kill to end the month. With the point, she became just the ninth player in USF history to each the milestone and just the third to do so as a junior. Mandala reached the benchmark in 265 matches, making her the fastest Dons to accomplish the feat. Mandala leads the Dons and the WCC with 237 kills this season.

"I am really impressed with Sarah and Erin Bragg. Mandala could be the best player in our conference," said Wallace. "We are just excited to go play. We talked to our team after the last win in Philadelphia and said `It's go time, it's WCC time'. I am looking forward to the energy they will bring and the idea we are ready to put together a campaign to win the WCC title. Our goal is to win conference and I think we are excited to go play USF Friday night."

After being a one or two team race in the WCC, Wallace thinks the WCC crown is a wide-open race this year because many of the teams are young, rebuilding and the injury bug has bitten a few. He said the odds-on-favorite was USD until one of its top players was redshirted. He thinks Saint Mary's is more experienced this season and Pepperdine, with its talent, can rise up and beat anyone.

"We follow the WCC pretty closely. There are probably six teams that can win the conference this year and it's going to be fairly balanced. I would be surprised if someone ran away with it and didn't have any losses," said Wallace. "It's wide open and we are looking forward to getting after it."

Wallace said SCU will run the 5-1 throughout the WCC; and mainly changed the Bronco offense due to injuries. Alexandra Palmer has had a sprained wrist and missed playing time; and in addition, with Krista Kelley out, Santa Clara had to play with more ball control in the back row.

"We like the 5-1 and are getting comfortable with it," said Wallace. "It gives us some flexibility in the line-up. I think we will still use the 6-2 at times this year and we will be comfortable using it."