After splitting at home last weekend, Santa Clara will hit the road once again for West Coast Conference action and this weekend could be the Broncos stiffest competition yet in league play as they will face No. 24 BYU on Thurs., Oct. 10 at 6 pm and then travel to No. 12 San Diego on Sat., Oct. 12 for a 1 pm match.
The Broncos are 7-7 and 2-3 in WCC play coming off a 3-1 victory vs. Portland on Oct. 3 and a 3-1 defeat vs. Gonzaga on Oct. 5.
The Broncos are led by Haley Cameron who is hitting .320 with 2.22 kpg. Megan Anders also works hard in the middle and is hitting .299 with 3.00 kpg. Sabrina Clayton collects 2.75 kpg and .40 sapg and Nikki Hess scores a team-high 3.05 kpg with 2.38 dpg. Alyssa Anderson continues to pace the offense with 9.69 apg, 2.65 dpg and .29 sapg.
Bronco head coach Jon Wallace knows this weekend's competition will have his team's attention in practice, but isn't handling practice any different than other weeks. "We knew going into this year, our conference is the strongest it has ever been in the history of the conference. I have been in this league for over 22 years and we have to approach every game the same and every match the same. But after a loss you need to be hungrier, you need to want it more, you need to dig deeper and hopefully we are being tested right now and we will find another gear to get to that's going to allow us to finish off matches and win them."
BYU is 12-3 and undefeated in league play at 3-0. The Cougars league home opener resulted in a 3-0 win vs. then-No. 2 San Diego. San Diego is now ranked No. 12 and is 11-3 this season including 3-2 in league play.
Wallace likes the attitude the team has brought to practice this week and said the first few days of practice this week were some of the best all year. "We had great energy, great determination and girls battling for their spots. They were very focused on getting better and playing with a toughness that we are going to need in this conference."
Preparing for BYU and San Diego presents a unique challenge for the Broncos as both teams play a lot differently. "Both are really great teams, but they run different systems and have different strengths," pointed out Wallace. "At this point it is about us playing a brand of volleyball that allows us to just play well, and that is what we want to do."
BYU is led by Alexa Gray (3.72 kpg) and Tambre Haddock (3.50 kpg) offensively.
"Alexa gets a majority of their sets, and she is phenomenal," added Wallace.
San Diego is led by four hitters that average 2.65 kills per game or better: Chloe Ferrari (2.81 kpg), Sandra Lozic (2.98 kpg), Taylor Hollins (2.69 kpg) and Katie Hoekman (2.65 kpg). Wallace acknowledged San Diego runs its offense through its two All-WCC middles in Ferrari and Hoekman. "We will have to serve tough and have to be very balanced in our offense so our middles will have to play well," said Wallace.
Wallace has been pleased with the defensive strides the team is making in practice this week. "We are making great strides to pick up our defensive side of the ball right now, both at the net blocking, but mostly in the back digging balls. Our goal this week is really to be running around and kind of throwing our bodies at the ball. And hopefully we will see more digs from it."
Anderson, Hess, Clayton and Mary Shephard are all dynamic servers and Milton adds a really strong jump serve as well. "We have served well this season. I think in the last couple matches against Portland and Gonzaga we have missed those tough serves at the wrong times, which we will have to be more comfortable in bigger moments and be able to execute from 20 on," said Wallace.
Making defensive strides is important to Wallace this week with the team playing up to four freshmen on the court at a time. "We just make it a focus and that is what the coaches will hold the girls accountable to. At the end of the day, volleyball is volleyball and it depends on what you want to highlight at any stage of it, whether it is passing or setting or the defense. We are giving the defense more attention with our eyes, so our feedback the kids are getting is more defensive, it is just what we are putting our emphasis on."
Finally, Wallace had a lot of praise to dish out as well saying there were many bright spots on the team. "Haley is playing really well. She is really aggressive right now. She is just stepping out and taking on great senior leadership," said Wallace. "Megan is coming back and being really strong this week. She seems really determined and focused right now to make an impact on this team and in this conference. I think all of our freshmen from Nikki to Sabrina to Mary Shephard are really playing well. They have to learn how to finish and have to learn how to win but they are doing a great job out there."
Wallace dished out a lot of credit to Milton and Anderson as well. "Those two girls are just grinding away and keeping our team in all of these matches, kind of being the backbone for us right now. They too are getting better on a daily basis, so there are a lot of bright spots. We just have to find a way to finish, we have to find a way to come out from the very start and play as hard as we can to sustain it all the way through."