Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, September 20, 2001



Improved Santa Clara
visits UH

The Broncos have come a long way
since the last time they played
here against the Wahine

By Grace Wen

Five years ago when Hawaii played the Santa Clara University volleyball team, the Wahine swept the Broncos quickly out of Stan Sheriff Center.

Don't expect that to be the case this time around. The 12th-ranked Wahine host the much-improved 20th-ranked Broncos for two matches this weekend starting tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Since Jon Wallace took over as head coach in 1999, a program that was barely a blip on the volleyball radar has increasingly made its presence felt.

Under Wallace, the Broncos won their first West Coast Conference title in seven years. Santa Clara reached the NCAA tournament in each of Wallace's first two seasons.

"It's becoming one of the better programs on the West Coast," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "Certainly, one of the better programs, if not the best in the West Coast Conference. It used to be LMU and Pepperdine.

"They're a lot better now than they were in 1996. They have a typical West Coast Conference team in that they're not big. They have really good ball handling, good ball control. They dig a lot of balls. They don't block many balls, but they dig. It's like a Santa Barbara type team with a little more fire power."

Through eight matches this year, the Broncos (7-1) have outdug opponents by 57 (587-528) but have been outblocked almost two to one (78-42.5).

The Broncos return only two starters from last year's squad in outside hitters Becky Potter, the conference freshman of the year, and Jami Bari. But setter Kelli Sousa (13.73 assists per game) spreads the offense around to at least three different attackers.

The Wahine will have to be prepared for long rallies this weekend. And it will be another test of endurance for a team that has relied heavily on just two hitters.

Kim Willoughby leads the Wahine attack, notching 157 kills and averaging 5.81 per game. Willoughby has been the most consistent performer but also sees most of the sets.

On different nights, Maja Gustin and Tanja Nikolic have turned in solid performances but never together and rarely consistently. Gustin averages 3.30 kills and is still adjusting to swinging from the left side. Nikolic is third on the team with 3.19 kills after a slow start.

The Wahine are still searching for production from middle blockers Lauren Duggins and Melody Eckmier.

"We've concentrated a lot on trying to get some offense out of our middles," Shoji said. "The middles have not been making themselves available. Lauren tends to be late all the time. Melody doesn't get good positioning with her body.

"It's not Margaret's best set either, so sometimes she doesn't have confidence in going to the middle a lot. Of course, you have to have a good pass, too. Those combinations are the reason we haven't hit well in the middle."

Duggins, however, is the team's most efficient attacker, hitting at a .274 clip.

In the aftermath of last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Stan Sheriff Center will increase security for this weekend's matches.

Arena manager Rich Sheriff said that there will not be a greater number of guards patrolling but other measures will be used. All large bags brought into the arena will be subject to search. The athletic department encourages people to leave bags at home.

To accommodate the anticipated delays, the arena doors will open 90 minutes before game time. These rules apply at the public gates and the ground-level security entrance.

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