Beach Volleyball

Beach Volleyball Opens 2017 Season this Weekend at Stanford

Junior Kirsten Mead played the entire 2016 season at the No. 1 position.
Junior Kirsten Mead played the entire 2016 season at the No. 1 position.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Santa Clara beach volleyball begins its 2017 season this weekend with four matchups against Bay Area opponents in two days at the Stanford Sand Volleyball Stadium. The slate will kick off Santa Clara's fifth season on the beach.

First up is a West Coast Conference tilt against Saint Mary's Saturday at 9 a.m., followed by dual matches against the host and 13th-ranked Cardinal at noon. On Sunday, Santa Clara takes on another WCC foe in Pacific at 9 a.m., then faces Cal at 3 p.m.

"Our mentality with this young group is not to worry about where we're at; it's to compete as hard as we can and go for it on the court," head coach Jon Wallace said. "Stanford's facility is great. Going up against beach-only players in a team like Cal motivates us and we've had some good success against them. To see our WCC foes before the conference championships will give us some good information."

The Broncos return five players from last year's squad, including senior Nikki Hess, who posted a 12-4 overall record (28-9 in sets) at the No. 2 pairing. Junior Kirsten Mead spent the entire year at the No. 1 spot and went 9-7 overall (21-22 in sets). Junior Jensen Cunningham had her best run at the No. 4 position, going 7-5 overall (18-15 in sets). Hess and freshman Allison Kantor will start the season at the top spot, followed by Mead and Cunningham at No. 2.

Junior Tatiana San Juan and sophomore Hailey Lindberg, who both saw action last season, round out the returning unit. The Broncos' seven newcomers are junior Erin Reineking, who joined the indoor team after six matches in the fall, as well as freshmen Michelle Gajdka, Callie Jones, Kantor, Taylor Laugero, Ngozi Nwabuzoh and Laura Willems. Wallace noted that Hess, Cunningham, Lindberg and San Juan have done well to help the younger players develop heading into their inaugural collegiate seasons on the sand.

"Compared to last year, we have more depth and net players that can really grow from Ngozi Nwabuzoh to Allison Kantor to Laura Willems; we can be pretty big at the net," Wallace said. "Our backcourt players in Taylor Laugero and Tatiana San Juan are advanced with what they can do. Overall, we are more skilled and more athletic, and those qualities are pushing this group forward."

THE OPPOSITION

Pacific is the only team with a regular-season match on the books in 2017. The Tigers dropped a 4-1 decision to San José State Thursday at home.

Saint Mary's: 17-6 in 2016 | 2-0 vs. SCU

No. 13 Stanford: 5-10 in 2016 | 0-1 vs. SCU

Pacific: 6-9 in 2016 | 1-0 vs. SCU

Cal: 17-11 in 2016 | 0-2 vs. SCU

LOOKING AHEAD

The Broncos play 11 matches overall in the 2017 regular season, including three on their home courts at Los Gatos High School. They host Sacramento State Wednesday, March 8 at 2 p.m., then have more than three weeks off of compeition before heading to Tucson, Arizona for the Wildcat Spring Challenge March 31-April 1.

WCC PRESEASON POLL/TEAM

The Broncos were picked to finish in a tie for third in the seven-team West Coast Conference and Hess was named Preseason All-WCC, announced by the WCC on Friday, Feb. 24.

ASSISTANT COACH TYLER TAYLOR

Santa Clara volleyball continues to add to its coaching staff with the hiring of 2016 NCAA national champion coach Tyler Taylor in February. Taylor spent the last two seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at Stanford, and helped the Cardinal indoor team win the 2016 NCAA national championship.

SANTA CLARA IN 2016

2016 marked the Broncos' best campaign in the young history of the program. Santa Clara began the year ranked 20th by DiG Magazine and went 7-1 in its first eight matches, including six victories in a row from March 12-April 8. The No. 2 pairing of Dani Rottman and Hess went 12-4 and posted a 28-9 record in sets. Santa Clara had three players named All-West Coast Conference (Hess, Sabrina Clayton, Mead) and six players named to the WCC All-Academic team (Rottman, Sarah Vaccaro, Madison Dutra, Mary Shepherd, Cunningham, Mead).

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