SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Santa Clara volleyball is used to facing quality competition throughout the season, and will gear up for another challenging schedule this fall. The team's 2017 indoor slate, announced on Monday by head coach Jon Wallace, features contests against two of the nation's elite programs in Kansas and Washington as well as nine matches against 2016 NCAA Tournament participants.
The Jayhawks were the No. 5 overall seed in last year's postseason and the Huskies reached a regional final as the No. 8 overall seed.
Santa Clara begins its 30-match campaign with a trip to the East Coast and a stretch of two reigning NCAA Tournament participants in two days at the D.C. Volleyball Challenge. The Broncos face American to start off the year on Aug. 25, followed by Georgetown and Howard on Aug. 26; the Eagles and Bison both reached the postseason last year.
"I'm very pleased with our 2017 schedule, which starts out on the first weekend with teams that are regarded as high-RPI teams," Wallace said. "It will be nice to go to our nation's capitol and do some sightseeing with the girls early in the year. Starting off the year with something like that really makes the team come together and creates special memories that last throughout the season."
The Broncos bring it back to the West Coast for the next two weekends at the Washington Invitational and UC Davis Volleyball Tournament.
Washington Invitational (* Denotes 2016 NCAA Tournament Team): Cal Poly, Washington* Sept. 1 | Seattle Sept. 2
"I believe Washington will be one of the top teams in the country," Wallace said. "Playing in their atmosphere against a top-five caliber team is going to be really good for the girls. To take Anna McCreadie, Taylor Odom and Chloe Loreen back to their home state and have them play in front of their home crowd will be a fun experience."
UC Davis Volleyball Tournament: Boise State*, Portland State Sept. 8 | UC Davis Sept. 9
"Boise State and UC Davis are two of the teams that picked us off last year and our girls have already marked those matches on the calendar," Wallace said. "That will be a very meaningful and competitive weekend."
Santa Clara plays twice in the Leavey Center on Sept. 15 as co-host of a tournament along with San José State. The competition features the team's home-opener against Idaho in the morning and a nightcap against Kansas, which is two seasons removed from reaching the NCAA championship match. The Broncos will take the short trip across town to face the Spartans one day later.
"I'm really excited for the home matches, especially since they fall on Santa Clara's Welcome Weekend," Wallace said. "We hope to get some good crowds with the students back. Not having to travel on the weekend prior to conference is going to give our team some rest and the opportunity to get comfortable in our own gym.
"Kansas is also likely to be a top-five team and has one of the nation's best players in Kelsie Payne," Wallace said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for us to play a highly-ranked opponent on our home court and see what we can do; that will be a fun one."
Consistently among the nation's toughest leagues, the West Coast Conference finished with the fifth-highest RPI in the NCAA last season. The Broncos open WCC play against BYU at home on Sept. 21 and host San Diego two days later, marking the second year in a row that Santa Clara will face the conference's top two teams from the previous year at the outset of conference play. The Toreros have made seven straight NCAA tournaments while the Cougars are coming off their fourth tournament appearance in a row.
"Our conference will have some ranked teams — BYU, San Diego and possibly Pepperdine — and we hope to be in the mix for rankings as well," Wallace said. "It will provide another challenging 18 matches and I think this year it is anybody's conference to win."
The Broncos play five of their first six WCC matches at home in a stretch from Sept. 21-Oct. 6 that includes Gonzaga, Portland and San Francisco. The only road match in that span is against Pacific on Sept. 26.
Following the home-heavy lineup, Santa Clara is away from Leavey for eight of the season's final 12 games, including its last three tilts. The Broncos take trips to San Diego on Nov. 16 and BYU on Nov. 18 followed by the regular season finale at Saint Mary's on Nov. 21.
Following the beach volleyball season, the Broncos are back on the hardwood and hitting the homestretch of their indoor spring schedule. Santa Clara has Pacific, Sacramento State, San José State, and defending national champion Stanford in the spring lineup.
The Broncos are working with two new coaches in Tyler Taylor — who was on the Stanford staff last year — and former Arizona State standout libero Stephanie Preach. Wallace noted that the team has tweaked its training techniques and systems, and he is excited to see how those changes translate into results during competition.
"The girls have been amazing," Wallace said. "They're 100 percent all in, showing up at 7 a.m. every day ready to get better. Young athletes like Michelle Gajdka and Allison Kantor are getting valuable time on the court to improve and get better.
"Our senior leadership from Kirsten Mead, Jensen Cunningham and Tatiana San Juan is terrific. They go about their business so well that it spreads throughout the whole team. That has been great for our program as part of a productive spring."
Santa Clara got off to its best start in program history at 9-0 in 2016. The Broncos upset No. 7 USC on the road during opening weekend; the Trojans are the highest-ranked team the Broncos have defeated in SCU regular season history. Following its ninth win, the team was ranked 17th in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll — its highest mark since 2006.
The Broncos lost their 2015 all-conference and all-region setter in Mead to injury after the sixth match of the year, and Mead missed 14 matches before returning to the lineup. They finished the season at 16-14 overall and 7-11 in conference play.
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