Playing its first three West Coast Conference matches at home and collecting a 2-1 record, including a 3-1 victory over No. 18 Pepperdine last Saturday, Santa Clara travels to Portland on Thursday night for a 7 pm match and then to Gonzaga for a Noon match on Saturday.
Bronco head coach Jon Wallace believes his team is road-tested this season already, after posting a 4-1 record on the opponent's floor during the preseason, with the only loss at then-No 8 Stanford. "We played all of our matches on the road during the WCC preseason," said Wallace. "They have shown they are comfortable playing on the road this season."
Sporting a 12-5 record, including 2-1 in the WCC, Wallace has a smile on his face these days when he talks about the direction the team is headed. "This team has found a way to just grind and try to get better every day," said Wallace. "The message has been simple and they are enjoying playing in practice during the week and in matches on the weekend. They are a fun group to be around. They are asking the right questions and want to get better every day."
Wallace wondered aloud this week if the league had ever been this tough. With seven teams in the top 60 of the latest RPI, including the Broncos sitting at No. 34, the league is as strong as its ever been top to bottom. "The West Coast Conference has fantastic talent and some really good players. Because it's so strong this year, we need to win every match we can at home; and that's why the win against Pepperdine was so important," said Wallace.
Santa Clara is third in the league's overall stats with 1.46 sapg. In league play the Broncos are third in hitting percentage at .262 and the opponent's hitting percentage is also third at .205. The Broncos are third in blocks with 2.67 per game and third in aces with 1.42 sapg.
Now going the road, Portland is improved this year and certainly Gonzaga is as well. Portland is 6-12 this season and 0-4 in the league, but have posted a 3-2 record at home. Santa Clara is 45-8 all-time vs. Portland with the series dating back to 1979, including a couple victories vs. the Pilots last year. Wallace is 25-1 vs. the Pilots with the only loss coming on Nov. 14, 2009 at Portland (3-0).
The Zags are 9-7 this season, including 1-2 in the league. It won 3-1 at Portland in its last match on Sept. 27. Santa Clara is 43-7 vs. Gonzaga with the series dating back to 1987. Last season it swept the Zags, for the third straight year. Its only loss to Gonzaga in the 50-match history was a 3-2 defeat in Santa Clara on Oct. 17, 2009.
The Broncos continued to be paced by Megan Anders on offense, who is hitting .367 with 2.76 kpg and a team-leading 0.97 bpg. Anders had 12 kills, hitting a sparkling .545 with zero errors in the win over Pepperdine. Haley Cameron is hitting .283 and Taylor Milton is third at .244 with 2.90 kpg and 2.26 dpg. Alyssa Anderson (6.33 apg and 1.99 dpg) and Chelsea Heier (4.90 apg and 1.52 dpg) continue to lead the offense, running a 6-2. Katy Schatzman collects a team-leading 3.85 dpg.
Anders is sixth in the league in hitting percentage. Anderson is seventh in assists and Schatzman is sixth in digs. In league matches, Anders is third in hitting percentage (.413) and Katherine Douglas leads the league with 0.58 sapg.
Individually Wallace complimented Taylor Milton on her steady play as a six-rotation player this season, complimenting her on her consistency. "Taylor has been consistent all year long for us," said Wallace. "Against Pepperdine, we got quite an emotional lift from Kayla Lommori and her aggressive serve. Her jump serve looks terrific and it was a good momentum booster for us."
Wallace knows while Megan Anders hasn't received WCC Player of the Week yet this season, she is one of the players they are keying in on in the opponent's scouting report this year. "Megan is playing so strong. What really helps us is that she is open a lot because others are playing well on the outside," said Wallace.
"We strive to have balance in our attack and we are able to accomplish that when our three attackers are doing their jobs," added Wallace. "Both of our setters, Alyssa and Chelsea, are listening to the game plan and making minor-adjustments during the match to set up open players. Sometimes we just tell them to set Megan because she is good with one or two or even three up. When she is playing aggressively, she is next to unstoppable."
Wallace pointed out Milton, Schatzman and Douglas are starting each rally off with their consistent passing which gives the setters multiple options. "They take a lot of pride in what they are doing," said Wallace.