A historic start of the season for Santa Clara volleyball
What’s nigh better than perfect? Historic. Or more simply, Santa Clara volleyball this year. With nine road wins to start the season, these Broncos (9–3 as we post this story) own the best start in school history and did it against a brutal schedule: Auburn, Cal, West Virginia, No. 21 Louisville, and No. 7 University of Southern California. USC is the highest-ranked opponent Santa Clara has ever beaten in the regular season. All this while only losing a total of six sets.
Want more history? Santa Clara entered the AVCA Top 25 for the first time in three years, and their No. 17 ranking on Sept. 12 was their best in more than a decade. Kirsten Mead ’18, Jensen Cunningham ’18, and Nikki Hess ’17 have each snagged a tournament MVP this year, with Hailey Lindberg ’19, Taylor Odom ’20, and Taylor Laugero ’20 adding all-tournament team honors to their résumés.
The key for SCU is tempo. Santa Clara is a skilled passing team and excellent with the serve, but the Broncos don’t waste time with their attack. Hailey Lindberg has been one of the best initiators of SCU’s frantic pace. Playing middle blocker and on the right side, her quick attacks have made the Broncos the aggressor, even as underdogs. “It’s harder for other teams to keep up with us,” Nikki Hess says. “It really helps either get a kill or get the other team in trouble. In that case we can defend them the way we want to.”
Lindberg is also the leader of the youth movement at SCU—one of nine underclassmen making an impact and one of four who appeared in the starting lineup. The team’s inexperience trips it up at times—like the Broncos three-loss weekend Sept. 16–17—but it also allowed the players to be confident against tougher opponents. They faked it until they made it, Hess says. “(The first years) came in really great, ready to work,” Hess says. “When there’s that big of a class, there’s sometimes a distraction or a little hiccup, but they came in smoothly and were able to just get going and understand our values and how we work.”
Hints of this season’s success flickered in the spring with a win over Stanford in an exhibition match. Then the new players came aboard—and they clicked as a team.
What’s next for the Broncos? Home first. SCU was scheduled to play its first game in the Leavey Center Sept. 27 against University of Pacific. From there, maybe a WCC crown? Hess thinks it’s possible. A team with seven first-year students is only going to get better.