In the hunt for its 15th NCAA tournament bid, Santa Clara, led by 2013 preseason All-West Coast Conference selection Megan Anders, begins the 2013 season Fri., Aug. 30 when it plays Cal State Northridge at 7:30 pm at the Fresno State Tournament in Fresno, Calif. The Broncos start quickly, playing three matches in 24 hours with SCU tangling with host-Fresno State at Noon on Saturday and then Rice at 5 pm.
Friday night's match will be broadcast with announcers/video online live via the Mountain West Network (via the MW website), as will the Fresno State match on Saturday.
"In our sport, right from the start it's go time and we're looking to play at as high a level as we can. We're looking to play as hard as we can," said Bronco head coach Jon Wallace. "I think our practices have been great. This is the most competitive this environment has been the last three or four years. I'm very happy with that. We love the competition and that's always good. Going into this weekend, we'll look to find a way to compete hard and find a way to play our brand of volleyball."
The Broncos were 20-12 in 2012, including 9-7 in the WCC. Advancing to the NCAA tournament, the Broncos drew a tough out and fell 3-0 to No. 8 Hawaii in Seattle. The Broncos return 2012 All-WCC first team middle blocker Megan Anders and All-WCC honorable mention outside Taylor Milton.
Wallace is excited about hitting the road to play three NCAA tournament-quality teams in Fresno. "I know Northridge and Fresno State return a lot of their starters from last year," added Wallace. "Northridge was a team that was knocking on the door last year to get into the NCAA tournament. They believe they have a good enough team to do that this year and with all the returners they have, they do have a great shot. I know they have a very good setter and a very good coaching staff that has been working with the same group of girls and should be very good."
CSU Northridge was picked in early August to finish third in the very-tough Big West Conference. The Matadors were 12-6 last year in league play, taking Hawaii, who finished 18-0, to five sets in October.
Head coach Jeff Stork heads into his 12th season with one of the most experienced teams he's had at CSUN. The Matadors, 21-10 last year, return every starter with the exception of libero Cindy Ortiz. Defensive specialist Monica McFarland also graduated but this year's team will be built around Casey Hinger, Sydney Gedryn, Natalie Allen, Mahina Haina, Britney Graff and Sam Kaul.
Fresno State was 18-13 last year, including 9-7 in Mountain West play. Lauren Netherby-Sewell enters her sixth season as Fresno State's head volleyball coach.
The team's floor defense will again be a forte, thanks to a pair of liberos and several experienced outside hitters that helped the squad pace the Mountain West in digs last year (15.23 per set). Of six starters back for the squad from 2012, junior libero Christina Lee topped the team in digs last year and ranked eighth in the conference. She recorded a career-best 34 digs vs. Sacramento State and Wyoming among her 15 matches with +15 digs.
Rice was 19-12 in 2012, including 12-4 in league play. The Owls were picked as the preseason favorite to win Conference USA in late July. The Owls are the preseason favorite for the first time since 2005 and had two players named to the preseason all-league team in Megan Murphy and Jillian Humphrey.
Wallace is excited to play in the Save Mart Center in Fresno. "This trip is mostly about establishing routines that is going to allow us to play at our best," said Wallace. "It's really about establishing routine, with film, with pre-match warm up, and how we are going to play the matches."
Wallace said the team would go hard Tuesday and Wednesday before taking Thursday as a very light day with travel. "Friday we will wake up, have a little serve and pass session in the Save Mart Center and then hopefully be ready to go," said Wallace.
Wallace is looking for the team to mentally process the weekend well. "I want us to almost play blind to what the score is, blind to what's going on and just play hard, looking to improve along the way and hopefully we'll take moments and try to learn from them and be able to play hard enough, physically, mentally, and emotionally and that's going to allow us to win."
On a final note, Wallace is really pleased with the way the preseason has gone, saying it's been a great contribution from both returners and new faces. "Taylor Milton has been sensational this year. Alyssa Anderson has been great. For us to have that stability from girls like that as well as Megan and Haley Cameron," said Wallace. "And also having the influx of nine new kids it keeps the gym pretty fresh. We've had some kids, Gigi Crusto, Nikki Hess, Sabrina Clayton – those three freshmen step up who could be in the starting line up and fill in some spots which is always really exciting."