Looking for its 14th NCAA tournament bid in the last 21 years, including the 12th under Bronco head coach Jon Wallace, the Santa Clara volleyball team will travel to four preseason tournaments this season as part of its 2012 schedule, before returning home to host its first three West Coast Conference games against two 2011 NCAA tournament teams in late September.
Wallace, in his 14th season at the Bronco helm, has coached 95 All-WCC players and 20 WCC All-Academic players, including graduating senior Tanya Schmidt who won the WCC Female Postgraduate Award and an NCAA Postgraduate scholarship as well.
"I like the teams we are playing," said Wallace. "I am excited about the depth and talent level of our conference. The early tournaments are tough, especially when you have to play two matches in one day. I hope our team will gain a lot of character and bond through the riggers of early tournament play. I do believe the schedule will be a good vehicle for us to make the school's 14th NCAA tournament appearance. We will be playing enough teams that are strong and hopefully take care of the teams at our level; and that would give us a good shot at making the NCAA tournament once again. We went to 11 straight NCAA tournaments dating back to 1998, including the 2005 Final Four, and we are working hard every day to get back to that level."
"We have talked to our team about the importance of our preseason schedule preparing us for conference. They are motivated to make significant upward movement in our conference standings this season," added Wallace.
For their first tournament in 2012, the Broncos will travel to near the Gateway of the West, St. Louis, to play in the Metro-East suburb of Edwardsville, Ill. The Broncos will play host Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Montana State in its season opener Aug. 25 and then play Western Illinois the next day. In addition, they will play at Saint Louis on Aug. 27.
"We are looking forward to our opening weekend," said Wallace. "It will be a good weekend for us to play in real matches with our new systems. St. Louis University will be a good test for us as well, especially on their home court on a Monday night. They are a good team and well-coached. It will be a tough challenge for us."
Wallace is also looking forward to the team-bonding that occurs on extended road trips. "I am looking forward to our visit to St. Louis where Katy Schatzman's extended family lives. We will go up in the Arch and see a lot of downtown St. Louis. The Schatzman's extended family is hosting a family bar-b-que for us so it should be a really good bonding trip for everyone," added Wallace.
The next weekend Santa Clara travels to Davis, Calif. to play three battle-tested teams in Utah, North Carolina and UC Davis in a matter of 26 hours.
"These will be three very tough matches for us," said Wallace, who has won 256 matches at Santa Clara. "North Carolina was in the NCAA tournament last year, Utah is in the Pac-12 and Davis has a lot of experienced players and are expected to have one of its better seasons in 2012. This will be a very good RPI tournament as North Carolina (ACC) and UC Davis (Big West) will be real conference title contenders."
Santa Clara will travel a few miles up I-280 North to play at Stanford the next weekend. The Broncos will play host-Stanford on Sept. 7 before playing Pacific and Loyola Chicago the next day.
"It's a nice court and a great place for our fans to come watch because it's close by," said Wallace. "At that tournament, we will also be playing UOP and Loyola Chicago. By our third tournament, we should have our systems down and building up our style of play. We hope to be competitive against anyone we play nationally."
The Broncos final tournament will be down in Southern California at Cal State Fullerton. The Broncos will play two matches on Sept. 14, vs. San Diego State and the Pac-12's Oregon State; and two matches on Sept. 15, vs. Brown and host-Cal State Fullerton.
"Playing four matches in two days will make it our toughest weekend in the early going," said Wallace. "All four teams are very good and it will be a challenge for us. Playing two in a day is always a challenge for us, but we expect our team to continue to rise to the occasion and play hard in every match."
Santa Clara will return home to open the 2012 WCC slate when it hosts Gonzaga (Sept. 20) and two 2011 NCAA tournament teams in San Diego (Sept. 22) and Pepperdine (Sept. 29). The Broncos will then play four straight WCC matches on the road before finishing off their non-conference schedule with a visit from Sac State on Oct. 16. The Broncos will host five of their final nine matches in the Leavey Center with the regular season ending on Nov. 17 at rival Saint Mary's on Nov. 17.
"The WCC should have one of its best years ever in 2012," said Wallace, who has won 124 WCC matches and three WCC titles during his time on the Mission campus. "I would anticipate four teams being ranked in the top 25, maybe five. Our conference has good depth, experienced players and with only two teams in the NCAA tournament in 2011, we have some hungry teams wanting to get back. I won't be surprised if we (the WCC) gets four teams in the NCAA tournament in 2012."