Aug. 23, 2007
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - During the past eight seasons under head coach Jon Wallace, Santa Claravolleyball has reached new heights, making eight straight NCAATournament appearances and qualifying for the program's first-everFinal Four. After winning 47 matches over the past two seasons, theBroncos again enter the season as one of the teams to beat in the WestCoast Conference and with a No. 24 ranking in the AVCA Poll. However,the team must overcome some key losses and one major question mark toagain take their place as one of the top teams in the country.
"The expectations this year are no different than any other year,"said Wallace. "We have a talented team with a lot of experience in bigmatches. We want to win the league and get back to the tournament andsee what happens from there."
Wallace will again count on the staff of Dustin Moore, Will Yuen andMatt Lyles to assist him in 2007. Moore begins his second year asassociate head coach, and Yuen moves up to the second assist positionafter two years as the volunteer assistant coach. Lyles remains on thestaff, but will move into the volunteer assistant position.
"To be able to keep the same staff together for the past three yearshas really been a big reason for our success," said Wallace."Dustin, Will and Matt contribute to all aspects of the program andhave been instrumental in the development of the players both personallyand on the court."
On the court, SCU returns a strong nucleus of talent, including fivestarters from a year ago. However, in order to get back to the top ofthe WCC, which SCU won in 2005, the Broncos will have to overcome theloss of two seniors, three-time All-WCC First Team outside hitter KimMcGiven and middle blocker Megan Pura, who had a solid senior season in2006. SCU went 20-8 and 9-5 in the WCC a year ago to earn theprogram's 12th NCAA Tournament appearance. McGiven finished hercareer with 1,327 kills and a 3.46 kill average to place fifth andfourth in those categories respectively. Pura, meanwhile provided astrong option in the middle for the Broncos and had a career high 103kills to go along with 56 blocks.
Replacing those seniors is one of the most decorated classes in programhistory. Middle blocker Anna Cmaylo, setter Crystal Matich and liberoCaroline Walters have combined for three All-American honors, threeAll-Pacific Region awards and five All-WCC recognitions in theircareers.
Cmaylo is one of two players in program history to twice be named anAll-American after earning AVCA All-American honorable mention status ayear ago. The Napa, Calif. native set a school record with a .405hitting percentage last season, while putting down 377 kills andrecording 109 blocks. She currently ranks in the Top 10 in programhistory in five different categories. Unfortunately for the Broncos,Cmaylo is the biggest question mark heading into the season, as she isrecovering from offseason shoulder surgery that has her season in doubt.
"Anna is one of our captains and no matter what her playing statusis, she will have a key role for us," said Wallace. "She is probablyour best leader and the team will count on her experience."
Entering her senior season, Matich is hoping to get back to the formthat earned her All-America honors as a sophomore. Last season, her yearwas interrupted by a stress fracture that forced her to miss ninematches. When healthy, Matich is one of the best setters in the countryand the Broncos will look to her to run a new offense in 2007. Shecurrently ranks fifth all-time in assists in school history with 2,949in her career for an 11.39 assist average.
Along with attempting to capture another WCC crown, Walters also has alot to play for in 2007, as she is within striking distance of settingthe program's all-time record for digs. The two-time All-WCC honoreeenters her final season with 1,456 digs and needs 405 more to surpassLia Young, who posted 1,860 digs from 1990-93. She holds the singlematch records for three-game and four-game matches. As the startinglibero the past three seasons, Walters has provided spectacular defenseas well as a confidence on the court that has sparked her teammates.
"Both Caroline and Crystal really need to step up for us to have asuccessful season," noted Wallace. "They have had great careers tothis point, but we are asking even more of them this season. Whenhealthy, Crystal is one of the most dynamic setters in the country,while Caroline is a great competitor and now is her time to step into aleadership role."
The talent does not stop with the three seniors, however, as theBroncos boast talent all over the court and all the way down to thefreshmen class. However, unlike previous seasons, the lineup couldfluctuate until everyone settles into their roles.
The team is particularly loaded on the outside with junior BrittanyLowe, along with sophomores Lindsy Evans and Nina Sevastopoulos andincoming freshman Krista Kelley, who had an outstanding prep career.Lowe was the WCC Freshman of the Year in 2005 and was also named to thePalo Alto Regional All-Tournament team as a freshman. She appeared inall 60 matches her first two seasons and already has compiled 660 killsin her career.
Evans showed her versatility last year as a freshman, as she stepped inas the starting setter when Matich was sidelined. The opposite hitterplayed in all 28 matches, starting 21 times to earn a spot on the WCCAll-Freshman Team. Along with her 139 kills, she also placed second onthe team with 470 assists.
Sevastopoulos arrived last season from Los Gatos and provided depth onthe outside, but this year, she will be counted on to play an expandedrole. She finished her first season with 61 kills and had some flashesof brilliance, including a career high 18 kills against Gonzaga. Thenewest addition to the Broncos long line of talented outside hitters isKrista Kelley, who comes to SCU from Sandy, Utah. At 6-1, Kelley has theheight and leaping ability to contribute immediately to Wallace'ssquad. She helped Brighton High School capture Utah's 5A state titleand was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year.
Another freshman, Alex Scoffone, will also compete right away for astarting spot. From nearby Lincoln High School in San Jose, Scoffonecould start right away at the middle blocker position.
Junior Nichole Clark and sophomore Lauryn Dowd have played outside inthe past but will probably find themselves in the middle this year.Clark appeared in 25 matches last year and had 96 digs as well as 19blocks. Dowd will likely fill a similar role, spending time in themiddle depending on the health of Cmaylo. The San Jose native had asolid first season on the Mission Campus and is aiming for an evenbigger role this year.
Taylor O'Brien and Michelle Luxton are both defensive specialists whoare aiming for impact junior seasons. O'Brien provided excellent playoff the bench last year, appearing in 27 matches and making 112 digs,while Luxton made nine appearances in her sophomore season.
Pushing for starting for a starting position on the outside and atlibero is redshirt freshman Kim Courtney. Courtney, a Santa Barbararesident, missed her first season with a knee injury, but could play arole this year defensively after undergoing a successful rehabilitationprogram.
As they do nearly every season, SCU begins the season with an extendedroad trip prior to getting the home slate underway. However, theschedule becomes more favorable following tournaments in Idaho, Floridaand Hawaii in the early season. SCU plays 13 of its final 21 matches inthe friendly confines of the Leavey Center, beginning with four matchesin four days in mid-September. After playing UC Davis on Sept. 13, theBroncos host the Santa Clara Tournament from Sept. 14-16, taking onthree teams that made the 2006 NCAAs, California, UC Santa Barbara andNotre Dame.
"Our tournament has three top-level teams this year," said Wallace."Cal is always a very good team and Notre Dame is a Top 20 team also.Santa Barbara is a high-profile program, so none of those matches willbe easy. Overall, we are excited to have so many home dates this yearbecause we never felt like we got into a rhythm last year at home withonly eight matches at the Leavey Center."
The non-conference schedule also includes home matches at the LeaveyCetner against San Jose State, UNLV and a tough road contest atSacramento State.
The Broncos, who were ranked No. 24 in the preseason AVCA Poll, werepicked to finish third in the tough WCC in a preseason coaches poll,behind San Diego and Pepperdine. Along with the challenge presented bythe Toreros and Waves, the remaining teams in the conference have allimproved with as many as six teams competing for the top spots in leagueplay.