WCC Fall Conference Play Preview: Volleyball


As the Fall sports of the West Coast Conference are wrapping up non-conference play and starting their WCC schedules, we will take a look at how the conference races are shaping up so far. First up is women’s volleyball, always a competitive sport in the WCC as the conference regularly features nationally ranked teams and NCAA Tournament participants.


San Diego has owned the WCC in women’s volleyball for quite a while now, and since BYU entered the conference it has regularly been a two horse race between the Toreros and Cougars for the championship. The past two years the title came down to a late season match hosted by USD with the Toreros coming out on top both times. In 2012 the teams split the conference title, while in 2013 the Toreros pulled out a victory to take sole possession of the championship.

Last year the two teams helped the WCC reach new heights of volleyball prominence. The Toreros upset the then-number one ranked USC Trojans and reach #2 in the country. Both the Toreros and Cougars reached the national rankings and had dominant runs in the NCAA Tournament reaching the Sweet Sixteen.

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  • This year has been more of the same with both teams sitting in the national rankings. The Toreros are a pedestrian 9-6 and have dipped to #23 in the country, but a down year for the Toreros is still a very good year. After a banner season in 2013, the Toreros are still adjusting to life after losing some key players including 2013 All-American Chloe Ferrari.

    Still after years of building a dynasty of success, the Toreros have the talent and depth to cruise through their WCC schedule and again compete for a title. Plus with the high ranking to start the year, anything less than a monumental collapse should have them in the NCAA Tournament once again even if they lose the WCC crown. They will be in the hunt as always.

    BYU meanwhile is primed for redemption. The Cougars had a stellar team last season and dominated the Toreros in a match in Provo. They had a great opportunity to win the WCC title but couldn’t pull out a win in front of a record crowd at USD that ended up being the difference maker. However while the Toreros lost a lot of talent and are taking a step back, the Cougars should be able to build off last season and be even better. After losing just two seniors off their Sweet Sixteen team from last year, They are currently #10 in the country and should be the class of the West Coast Conference this year.

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  • Despite returning so many key players, the biggest addition for the Cougars is the return of a player who didn’t play volleyball last season. Jennifer Hamson took a year off from volleyball to focus on basketball, and it led to her becoming a WNBA draft pick by the Los Angeles Sparks. This year the 6-7 Hamson is back for one last shot at volleyball glory, and she will lead a talented Cougars squad. In 2012 she was named the WCC Player of the Year and a 1st Team All-American, so the return of Hamson is huge. One could argue the Cougars could have pulled out the WCC title and an even deeper run in the NCAA Tournament last year if they had her available. And she is a big reason why the Cougars are even better than last year.

    This year the key matchups between  BYU and USD are reversed. The past two years the Toreros took advantage of late home matches against the Cougars to pull out their championship wins. This year the Toreros host early on October 17th while the match at BYU will be later on November 14th. The October match will tell fans a lot about how this rivalry is shaping up this year. It could go down to the wire again, or the Cougars could exert their dominance and make the statement that they won’t leave the door open for the Toreros this year. The past two years the home team has won each match between these two teams, so it is critical that San Diego gets the early home win to have a shot.


    There is an interesting wrinkle this year heading into conference play as a number of other WCC schools boast impressive records currently. Loyola Marymount  finished their non-conference schedule at a perfect 12-0. They dropped their first match this past week but their hot start has propelled them into the top 25 giving the WCC three ranked teams.

    Pacific and Santa Clara have both reached double digit wins already, while San Francisco and Gonzaga sit at nine wins. With a conference-best 13 wins and a 2-0 start to WCC play, Pacific actually leads the standings currently over the Toreros and Cougars who also have 2-0 starts to conference play.

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  • This is in stark contrast to last season when all of the above teams finished with .500 or worse records, and the only team in the WCC who did worse than that group was Portland who did not win a single match. Meanwhile Saint Mary’s is struggling, currently in last place in the conference. This comes after the Gaels finished 2013 with 18 wins and at certain points looked like they could challenge San Diego and BYU for the conference title.

    Santa Clara has a tough road ahead. Their ten wins have have not come against impressive opponents, and San Francisco swept them to open WCC play. They just miss out on being labeled a true dark hose candidate as a result. San Francisco has played some legitimate opponents, but they haven’t done much against them. They could spoil a contender’s hopes with an upset win, but they are not going to pull out the title in such a deep conference with too much talent.

    Gonzaga has likely already sealed their fate with early losses to BYU and San Diego. Without any impressive non-conference wins, even a record well over .500 is probably not enough for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. And the losses to USD and BYU almost certainly assure that they cannot catch those teams to try and steal away the conference title. You only get two shots at your conference foes per season, so the Bulldogs are already chasing from behind. To expect BYU, USD, Pacific, and LMU to all collapse and let Gonzaga catch them is just too unlikely.

    Pacific is an intriguing team, and the nation is taking notice. They are receiving top 25 votes, and it would really be newsworthy if they can make it four nationally ranked WCC teams at some point. The Tigers pushed volleyball power USC to five sets earlier this year, and they made a statement handing nationally ranked LMU their first and so far only loss to open conference play. After losing almost no players from last year’s roster, the Tigers are primed with a veteran team to make some noise.

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  • Despite the loss to Pacific, the team to watch is clearly Loyola Marymount. Something special seems to be happening with the Lions as everything might be coming to together for a big season. The Lions lost their only All-WCC performer from last year, but considering they only lost two seniors it’s no surprise they are off to a hot start with a veteran team. It certainly feels like they are off to one of those “once every few years” kind of runs teams can have when they return a strong and experienced lineup full of veteran players.

    At this point they are likely to finish the season with single digit losses. They can smell the NCAA Tournament already and have a great shot at it. There’s no doubt at this point that the whole team and coaching staff knows they are an upset win or two during conference play from having a legitimate shot at the WCC title. A 3-0 sweep in their match against San Diego this week was a huge statement, and it proves they are here to play and will be very much in the title hunt. They will need some breaks especially after dropping their first match to Pacific, but they have the look of a legitimate team. At worst the conference has a serious new contender in the Lions, at least for this season.

    Only time will tell if the Lions can take advantage of their situation. Dropping a five set match to Pacific raises some red flags, but it’s far from anything to panic about. With sweeps over legitimate opponents like Idaho and #20 UCLA, it seems like the Lions are for real and this isn’t a product of a soft non-conference schedule.

    We will know a lot more after the Lions face the Cougars, but it’s already evident that this isn’t just a two horse race this year. This is nothing but good news for the conference as the WCC might be primed to capture three or even four NCAA Tournament berths, a rare feat for the conference and a testament to how strong they has gotten in this sport. The WCC could be one of the deepest volleyball conferences in the nation this year, and plenty of action and surprises are ahead as these teams fight for a title.