Tuesday night was rivalry volleyball night in Santa Clara as the Wilcox Chargers hosted the Santa Clara Bruins. Wilcox would get the better of their rivals on this night, knocking off the Bruins in straight sets (25-17, 25-10, 25-10).
For Santa Clara, first-year Head Coach Jung Shin is trying to build a culture of winning with a program that has struggled the past few seasons. He knows it will take some time.
“We’re trying to build a different culture here,” noted Shin. “We’re used to losing, for many years Santa Clara has been used to losing. The girls fought back hard [in the first set], but when they get close, they get nervous. We exerted a lot of energy to come back, but the nerves got to them a little bit. We have to start building that culture of winning.”
Santa Clara features a relatively young squad this year with five seniors compared to nine juniors and sophomores rounding out the roster. One of the senior leaders is captain Alysse Heller, who had some of the most impressive of the kills against Wilcox.
“We started out really well, especially energy wise,” said Heller. “We picked up our mistakes super quick in the first set and fixed a lot of the things that went wrong. But progressively as the second and third sets came along we got a bit mentally lazy.”
While the Bruins started out well and then regressed, the Chargers conversely started slow and then picked up their play as the match went along.
“We started off and we were all a little bit slow,” admitted Chargers’ senior captain Deena Pederson. “As the sets progressed we got in our groove a lot better. At the beginning we were missing a lot of our serves, so that’s like free points for them.”
“We weren’t moving our feet,” remarked Chargers Head Coach April Lujan on what she did not like about her team’s start. “We were just expecting the other team to make errors, but in reality, we made the errors. We hit out, served out, we weren’t communicating, nor moving. We beat ourselves in the first set.”
As the game went along and the Chargers found their groove, it was junior outside hitter Amanda McDowell, the team’s lone six-foot player, that powered the offense.
“She came in as a freshman and she had never played volleyball before,” said Pederson on McDowell, her teammate for three years now on volleyball and softball. “I’ve seen her grow so much over the years, and she started playing club just this past year, so I think that’s helped her a lot. She’s really channeled her height. She’s always had her height, but she’s really learned how to use it now, so she’s progressed a lot.”
“She’s our primary,” acknowledged coach Lujan on McDowell as their go-to finisher. “I’m getting her to trust her swing more. I’d rather her to swing with purpose and hit the ball into the net or hit out, than to stop her swing. When you stop your swing or change mechanics, your brain doesn’t memorize the movement. She’s learning to trust her swing, be more aggressive and talk to her setters.”
Wilcox will next play at Saratoga on Thursday, Sept. 19, while Santa Clara will play at Piedmont Hills on Monday, Sept. 23.