With non-conference play in the rear-view mirror, Santa Clara travels to the City of the Angels this weekend to begin West Coast Conference play. The Broncos start off with a 7 pm match at Pepperdine (6-2) on Thurs., Sept. 19 and then travel to LMU (5-4) for a 1 pm match on Sat., Sept. 21.
The Broncos, 5-4, finished non-conference play with a 3-0 win over Cal Poly on Sept. 14. Three of their losses were to top 25 teams on the road: vs. then-No. 10 UCLA (3-1), at then-No. 9 Hawaii (3-1) and at No. 23 Cal (3-0).
The Broncos are led offensively by two freshmen and a senior. Sabrina Clayton leads the Broncos in hitting at .363 and with .50 sapg and Nikki Hess paces the team with 3.27 kpg. Preseason All-WCC honoree Megan Anders is second in both categories at .323 and 3.12, respectively. She leads the team with .88 bpg.
Setter Alyssa Anderson collects 8.61 apg, 2.42 dpg and .030 sapg. Running about two-thirds of the preseason, transfer GiGi Cresto collects 3.89 apg, 1.36 dpg and .21 sapg. Libero Danielle Rottman leads the team with 3.52 dpg.
On the road for its fourth straight weekend, Bronco head coach Jon Wallace likes the direction his team is headed in as they open WCC play. "We learned that our freshmen are pretty good and are going to get the job done for us this year," said Wallace. "But just trying to incorporate nine new and nine old I think the best way to get a team to bond together is to go through battles on the court and we did that. I think our team is much more unified and they know how to play in critical moment a lot better, they got better at that week by week."
Wallace knows the team has more room to go and to do that, they are coming together on a daily basis and working hard to get better. This will be important in conference play. "We're going to have to improve every week out because we have a ton of talent in the WCC this year and we're just going to have to be committed to getting better and committed to competing as hard as we can every weekend," added Wallace.
The nine-team conference last year, the WCC sent six teams to the NCAA tournament, including the Broncos. An even stronger league this year with everyone stepping up their game, the league adds new member Pacific to the mix in 2013 and they have a rich volleyball history as well.
"Every match in our conference this year is going to be difficult," said Wallace. "The conference returns a lot of talented juniors from last year and we're kind of like a senior based conference right now. Every match we play is going to be tough but our Broncos are ready to go. After going to Hawaii and going to Cal and playing at those venues, our girls are road tested. They've learned a lot and we're ready to go and we're excited about this weekend."
First on this weekend's docket is the Broncos match at Pepperdine on Thursday. Pepperdine won 3-0 at No. 19 Kentucky and then defeated Louisville 3-1 the next day at the Bluegrass Battle. The Waves are in search of their 12th league championship, last winning in 2011. The Waves are comfortable at home, already posting a 4-2 record in Firestone Fieldhouse this season.
LMU will come fast enough for the Broncos next on Saturday. At 5-4, they too are 4-2 at home coming into the weekend. They defeated College of Charleston (3-0) and Seattle (3-0) after opening the tournament with a 3-0 loss to Long Beach State. LMU has won five of the last six vs. the Broncos.
Wallace knows the team's play two very different styles and said that will be the biggest challenge of the weekend. "Pepperdine has a lot of long, tall girls and LMU plays the game at a much faster pace so we're going to have to adjust," said Wallace. "We'll have a day to adjust with practice on Friday, but I think the two styles of play are very different and we'll have to adjust from one match to the other."
Wallace was pleased in the preseason with the work of the passers. "They've come in for extra reps, they've really solidified our team and given us a great first line of defense," he said. "They're going to continue to get better but they've gotten a lot more solid between week one and week three."
This week the Broncos worked to continue to serve tough in practice. They also worked to eliminate service and attacking errors. "We are working to improve on our swing, our swing management and making fewer errors in that regard," said Wallace. "I think we're getting plenty of kills but I think we need to cut down some of our errors in regards to attacking."