The Bronco volleyball team is in the midst of a few weeks of double and triple days prior to their season opener on Aug. 30 vs. Cal State Northridge in Fresno, Calif. With nine returners and nine newcomers, including eight true freshmen, Santa Clara head coach Jon Wallace (JW) has his hands full with two-three practices a day, planning every minute, film between the on-court sessions, including individual film sessions and team bonding. This week Wallace, in his 15th season as the head coach of the Broncos, sat down with SantaClaraBroncos.com to talk about what the team is working on and had a special shout-out to the freshmen parents.
SCU: For the most part you have transitioned now from three practices a day to two practices a day and a film session with the team. Do you like what you are seeing the first couple of weeks?
JW: Triple days are going really well. We have dialed it back a bit, with double days now, but we also have a film session in there so we are getting together three times a day. We've seen some great strides the last three practices. We're developing a good group that is competing for the starting line up. We are seeing great play out of Nikki Hess, Sabrina Clayton and Maddie Cannon. Those three freshmen are really coming on strong and adding to the group.
Taylor Milton is having a great preseason right now and she's doing everything for us. She's passing, serving well, playing great defense and attacking the ball extremely well.
SCU: It's good to hear your two All-WCC players, Megan Anders and Taylor Milton, are playing well along with so many others. Obviously it hurts to have a starter like Haley out during preseason, but has it given younger players more of a chance to step up?
JW: The silver lining is it has given Lacey Moss and Maddie Cannon a lot more of an opportunity to play middle and compete everyday. Their learning curve has been straight up and they've done a great job kind of taking on that responsibility. They've gotten a lot better. With Haley gone they have had to step it up and they have. It's been nice to see that progression.
SCU: You hosted a pre-triple days BBQ at your house that included s'mores over the fire pit. Have you been able to do much bonding off the court with the team yet?
JW: With the season the way it is and every practice so important, we haven't been able to do very much off the court bonding yet. The girls live together so all 18 are together all the time. What I like to see is the bonding on the court, in our competitive matches. I see our freshmen stepping up and playing really well. I see the upperclassmen showing them a lot of respect. They are connecting on the court through our competitions. Every day we are competing and they are bonding through winning each drill. That is pretty neat for us to see.
SCU: Most likely there are eight sets of parents wondering how their daughter is coping being away from home for the first time at college. Do you have a message for the freshmen parents?
JW: The parents are going to get the call pretty soon. It happens every year - anytime these young people move away from home. They do miss home, they do miss everything they get and receive from their mom and dad. But I will say that this group in particular, being such a large group, they have really bonded together. Being in the dorm room with seven or eight other kids has been very welcoming for them. They talk a lot and they've bonded together so maybe missing home will be pushed back a week or two. But they will miss home and it will happen. I think the strength is in numbers and they definitely use it to their advantage.
SCU: You have a good message to the parents – be supportive of being away from home through their tears if they come. Thanks. With your first tournament next weekend, have you put together a starting line-up yet?
JW: We will be putting in the starting line up soon. We talked about it with the team a couple nights ago. We do have a lot of young players and we do need to develop them over the years so we're never going to be done building or changing our line up. In the next day or so, we are going to see about as close of a starting line up as we will see going into are first game against Cal State Northridge. We need to start defining some roles on the team as well as keeping their minds on improvement. Our minds need to be on a team-first mentality. That will allow us to grow throughout the year and continue to get better and better each week.
SCU: With so many new players on the team and a number of returning starters – is it hard to fill out a line-up card right now? A player may not start the first match, but could play a key role moving forward. Do you talk to the team about this?
JW: We hope each girl can reach deep inside and say "hey I can do this well and I'm going to make my mark on this team." We hope they have marks that will help them move into the starting line up for the team. Some girls will have it today. Some girls will have to develop it and hopefully it will come out in the course of the season. It is really important to push to be a starter, but I think more importantly, it's important to say "OK, what is it going to take to win our conference? What is it going to take to make the NCAA? What is it going to take to get back to the Final Four? Not only do I need to be the best in this gym, I need to be the best in the conference, I need to be one of the top in the nation in my position."
In 2005 when we had Crystal Matich, Anna Cmaylo, Annalisa Muratore, Kim McGiven, Caroline Walters, Cassie Perret and a number of other very talented ladies who went to the Final Four. Those girls were not only striving to be the best in the WCC, but in their position in the nation. Anna was probably the best slide attacker in the nation that year. Cassie was hitting almost .400 throughout the year. These girls did some spectacular things and we need to see that in our girls this year. They need to see beyond the gym - being a starter on the team is a great thing, but being the best in the country in your position is ultimately what is going to get this program back to being a top 10 team.
SCU: It sounds like everyone from the head coach to the trainer to the assistant coaches to the team are working really hard. What are a couple things you really like about the team so far?
JW: I'm enjoying our work ethic. I'm enjoying the strides that our seniors have taken from a year ago in the responsibilities of being out in front. Alyssa , Megan , and even Haley from the sidelines, have come here and are working everyday, getting better every day. Our work ethic in the gym has been the best it's been in the past four years. They are responding to the coaching staff extremely well in that they are focusing every day and using every drill to get better. I really like that.
I'm also enjoying the new-ness of the nine freshmen. It is so fun. Chloe Lott and Mary Shepherd bring in such great personalities. When they make plays - the whole gym just erupts. It's exciting as well as seeing kids like Sabrina and Nikki get better every day because they are very good athletes and very good volleyball players.