SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After facing two of the nation's top-10 teams last weekend in Hawaii, Santa Clara won't take any easy outs this weekend either as the Broncos travel to Cal to play Kansas State Thursday and No. 23 Cal Friday. The Broncos then return home to play upstart Cal Poly on Saturday in the team's home opener at 2 pm.
Santa Clara is 3-3 this season. They are led nationally by Sabrina Clayton, who is No. 20 in aces per match (0.62) and No. 48 in hitting percentage (.411). She is No. 3 in the West Coast Conference in both categories. The Broncos are No. 3 in the WCC and No. 48 nationally with 1.71 sapg and No. 4 in the WCC with 13.83 kpg (No. 52 nationally).
"First and foremost, Cal Poly is our first home match and we're really excited for that. Cal Poly is really good and they have one of the best players in the country back in Jennifer Keddy. She will be a force to reckon with," said Bronco head coach Jon Wallace. "This week we are going to work down to one court, just give our girls a feel for what our gym is really like. The great Carolyn Walters is an assistant coach with the Mustangs. We're always happy to see her back in the gym here at Santa Clara. She helped lead our team here to the Final Four back in 2005. "
The Broncos will play Kansas State (6-0), who has been receiving votes this week nationally, at 5 pm on Thursday at Cal. KSU went 3-0 at the UNLV tournament its first weekend, including a 3-2 victory over West Coast Conference foe Portland. The Wildcats also posted a 3-0 record in their own tournament last weekend, capping it off with three 3-0 wins over Siena, Southern Illinois and SE Missouri State.
Kansas State is headed up by one of the best, Suzie Fritz, and she has been doing an amazing job throughout her 13 years. The Big 12, which is led by 2012 NCAA champion Texas, is one of the top volleyball conferences in the country. "Their team is solid fundamentally and Suzie is a terrific coach," said Wallace.
Wallace said playing such tough competition last weekend in Hawaii helped his team mature quickly. "Playing the No. 9 and No. 10 teams in the nation on the road, in front of 6-7,000 people, it was a great experience for our girls and I think our girls settled in nicely. We are a much better team for it going forward," said Wallace. "I can see it in our girls' eyes, they want to beat these good teams. They are excited to go up and play this weekend - they want to get out there. They wish they could play today: they enjoyed the competition last weekend and they're excited for the competition ahead of us."
Santa Clara will remain up in Berkeley on Friday for a 7 pm match at No. 23 Cal. Cal, 5-0, is flying high right now after sweeping No. 19 Creighton 3-0 last weekend in Omaha. The Bears will start the tournament with a 7 pm match on Thursday vs. Cal Poly.
The Bears are hitting .336 as a team thus far this year and are on one of the better blocking teams this year as well.
Wallace knows Cal is off to a great start and said the staff knows their team well after playing them in the sand this past spring. "When we get to that match on Friday I know our girls are going to be pumped and ready to go," said Wallace.
The Broncos will then return to the Leavey Center to host Cal Poly in their first home match of the year at 2 pm. Cal Poly heads into the weekend with a 4-2 record, including a 3-2 win over Big 12 Conference member Baylor. They also went 3-0 last weekend to win the Sac State Tournament.
Wallace likes what he has seen from his team in practice this week and credits their time in Hawaii. "It was a great experience to be under that sort of pressure in Hawaii and to have the fourth games be fairly close was great for our team," added Wallace. The team fell 3-1 to No. 10 UCLA and 3-1 to No. 9 Hawaii. "We learned that if they can just give 1% more they could win those matches and we believe in our talent, we believe in what we are doing, we just need to get better, we need to find a way to be more mindful of every rep we take and I think if we can do that we'll be on the better side of those matches. Being on the road and being in those matches and in Hawaii was a bonding experience for our team. Playing against great competition will either pull you apart or bring you together and I think those matches brought our team together."
The Broncos have used four different line-ups in six games and Wallace doesn't see a set line-up moving forward for the time being. He likes the play of the returnees including Megan Anders, Haley Cameron, Taylor Milton and Alyssa Anderson. "They are carrying a big load for us now. They are the base that we are building off of and they have done a nice job at keeping us in the game."
Wallace is equally impressed with his two freshmen outside hitters Nikki Hess and Sabrina Clayton, who he said are both flourishing on the court and doing a great job. Clayton had an amazing match against New Mexico State, where she went 19/29 with no errors. "She was a big reason why we were able to win game four, she delivers," said Wallace. "It's great to see that we have freshmen here who are able to step in and hold the standards here at Santa Clara for the next three years."
"Nikki led our team in attempts when we played Hawaii and had a great night," said Wallace. "GiGi Cresto is setting in three of our rotations so those three kids have big roles and I think its easy for them to step into that with the base around them with Megan, Haley, Taylor and Katherine Douglas."
The Broncos are only thinking of this weekend today, but next weekend features a road trip to open WCC play at Pepperdine (Sept. 19) and LMU (Sept. 21). The WCC is going to be as strong as ever again this year. "We just need to get to a level where we feel very confident going into every match that we are going to be extremely competitive and go out to win," said Wallace.