Santa Clara needs a strong final stretch
THE SANTA CLARA
November 3, 2016
Santa Clara rebounded from a crushing loss against the University of Portland with a four set victory over Gonzaga University.
Going into last Thursday’s night match against Portland, Santa Clara women’s volleyball was desperate to put an end to their losing ways. The Broncos had suffered blowouts in three consecutive matches and were in the midst of a horrendous slump. After starting 9-0 and drawing national attention, the Broncos had dropped 10 of their last 13 matches.
Santa Clara started off the match against Portland exactly the way they needed to. The Broncos battled in a back-and-forth set and reached a tie at 20-20, when conference standout Nikki Hess approached the service line with the set at stake.
“Honestly, I didn’t even notice about the serves, and I think that helps,” Hess said. “When it’s close, I do the same thing I do every time: set my mind straight, do a routine and serve the ball.”
Hess secured the first set for the Broncos and was the best player on the court, finishing the match with 19 kills.
The next set looked to be going the Broncos way and a win would have given them a commanding 2-0 match lead. Portland was on the ropes as they frequently called time-outs in the critical stages of the set to try and kill the Broncos momentum. It worked. The Broncos coughed up a 23-16 lead to lose the set 26-24. Hannah Troutman and Katie Sullivan lead Portland’s offense throughout.
The next two sets followed suit as Santa Clara and Portland went back and forth all set, but the Broncos couldn’t keep their composure during critical points and conceded both sets to lose the match.
“The Portland loss was very disappointing. We made some lineup changes in the middle of the match that made us stronger, but we couldn’t sustain a high level of playing during critical points,” said Broncos coach John Wallace. “I think if we had a few more days to practice, we would have gotten a different outcome.”
There was obvious disappointment from losing to Portland despite playing better for most of the match, but the Broncos gained some positives from competing so hard.
“Even though we lost to Portland, we got into a good rhythm as a team and we were more mentally tough than we have been in recent matches” said Jensen Cunningham. “That match brought us all together a little more and instilled a sense that we can bounce back from losses and win.”
The Broncos went into their next match against a hot Gonzaga team on Saturday with renewed focus and belief. They executed perfectly and rebounded from the letdown against Portland.
The Broncos lost the first set in a close one, and looked like they were in line for another one-sided loss. However, they rallied from behind in the second and third sets and showed the resilience they had been lacking in previous matches.
“We started off really strong and played together more as a team” said Hess “When we played Gonzaga, we had some of the confidence that we built by going 9-0 and playing a lot of big teams early in the season.”
Against Gonzaga, the Broncos went with a smaller rotation in large part because of the return of Kirsten Mead.
“Kirsten is a six-rotation player, she manages the front court very well,” said Coach Wallace. “She is a complete player and allows us to sub less and stick to our core players more.”
Mead set up some crucial points to lead the Broncos back from a 21-16 deficit in the third set and completely switch the momentum in Santa Clara’s favor. The Broncos went on to take the match behind the brilliance of Hess and Mead and strong play up the middle from the extremely consistent Cunningham.
The Broncos have six matches remaining in their season and are looking to regain their early season form.
“At the core, this group is a championship team,” said Coach Wallace. “We’ve had some adversity that has derailed us a little bit, but every day they come in and work hard. They are committed and dedicated to being their best. This group has higher standards and loftier goals than where we’re at right now, but we’ll make the best of every match we can from here on out.”
The Broncos next game is on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. against the University of San Francisco at the Leavey Center.
Contact Ben Epstein at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.