The Santa Clara volleyball team received the school's 14th NCAA tournament bid on Sunday and will be play No. 8 Hawaii on Fri., Nov. 30 at 5 pm in Seattle, Wash.
The Broncos are 20-11 this season and Hawaii, who plays out of the Big West Conference, is 26-2. The winner will advance to the play the winner of No. 5 Washington (23-6) vs. Central Arkansas (30-4) game on Sat., Dec. 1. Host and 13th-seeded Washington and Southland Conference regular season and tournament champion Central Arkansas will play at 7 pm on Friday. The two winners will play each other in the second round at 7 pm on Saturday. The winner will advance to the Omaha Regional Dec. 7-8. The Final Four is in Louisville this year.
It is Bronco head coach Jon Wallace's 12th NCAA tournament berth as the head coach at Santa Clara. "I am very happy for these women, especially the juniors and seniors who have not been to the NCAA tournament before – they have paid their dues," said Wallace. "Those two classes came to Santa Clara because of our tradition in going to the NCAA tournament – having gone 11 straight years - and they have worked hard to get the program back there this year."
The Rainbows concluded their season Friday with a sweep of UC Riverside to complete a perfect 18-0 Big West Conference record, the first team to do so since 2002. Wallace knows they will have their work cut out for them with the Rainbows. "Being able to travel for the NCAA tournament will be a great and fun experience for our team," said Wallace. "Playing a team like Hawaii, always a top team in the nation, will be challenging but also exciting at the same time."
In the Broncos last appearance in the 2008 NCAA tournament, also in Seattle, they advanced to the second round by defeating No. 16 Kansas State in the first round. They fell to No. 5 Washington in the second round. Santa Clara's best NCAA tournament was its run to the Final Four in 2005.
The Broncos finished fourth in the West Coast Conference this year with a 9-7 record.
The Broncos will join five other teams from the West Coast Conference in the NCAA tournament. The other five were No. 16 BYU, No. 19 San Diego, Pepperdine, LMU and Saint Mary's. The conference's six bids are tied for the WCC's most-ever, tying its previous record set back in 2003. The Big Ten Conference and the Pacific-12 Conference led all conferences with seven bids each. The WCC was next with six teams representing the league in the NCAA tournament.
"We have gotten six teams once before (2003). Of my 21 seasons in the WCC, this is by far the strongest and best talent this conference has had. It's well deserving that we got six teams in," said Wallace.
The Broncos are led by a trio of captains: senior Kayla Lommori, senior Lexi Williamson and junior Katherine Douglas. "Our three co-captains have done a great job of motivating, mentoring and leading this team to give us their best every day in practice and in all of our matches," added Wallace.
Two of the captains commented after hearing the news that they were in the NCAA tournament.
"When we walked in today to watch the NCAA show, I believed we were in. I thought we were in," said Lommori. "There are a lot of things that go into it – making the tournament - so many aspects I don't really understand. I thought we had a better chance to make it than not make it. We have proven to be a really strong conference – maybe the third best in the country. My heart was beating so fast before I saw our name up there on the TV. Over the weekend I thought nationally, whatever was going to happen, was out of my control. I focused on what we did at the beginning of the season to see if that was good enough to get us in."
"I am just grateful to play another match, potential matches. It's been our goal forever and it's awesome to meet that goal my senior year," added Lommori.
"When I saw LMU up there, I knew we would have a really good chance up to make it (LMU was announced prior to Santa Clara)," said Williamson. "The WCC has six teams in. It shows that it's extremely competitive. Over Thanksgiving weekend I kind of tuned volleyball out as far what other teams were doing nationally. It was all stuff out of our control."
"I agree with Kayla on the excitement of playing in the NCAA tournament. It will be challenging and fun to play Hawaii in Seattle," added Williamson. "It will be challenging to play them. We will focus all week on playing well in Seattle."
"It's freaking awesome," said Williamson.
"I am very excited," said Lommori.