MORAGA, Calif. — The Saint Mary's volleyball team's 2017 schedule is full of the nation's best, including hosting defending national champion and Bay Area rival Stanford, in another competitive schedule built and announced by head coach Rob Browning and his staff.
The Gaels, who improved to 11-18 overall and 6-12 in the West Coast Conference a year ago, will face seven NCAA Tournament teams from 2016, including three in one weekend to open the season. The Gaels will play 12 home matches with the home opener coming on Sept. 8 versus Fresno State.
“Our schedule is loaded with a bunch of top-notch opponents,” said Browning. “We are going to find ourselves toe-to-toe with some of the very best teams in the nation, including the past two NCAA national champions in Stanford and Nebraska. Washington is the defending Pac-12 champs, Creighton won their conference and made it to the Elite Eight, Pitt made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament, we play at Cal; and almost all of these teams are projected to be stronger this year than they were last year.”
Defending national champion and Bay Area rival Stanford visits McKeon Pavilion on Sept. 16 for a 7 p.m. clash. The Gaels also travel through The Tunnel to face neighbor California the day before on Sept. 15. All nine WCC teams will visit Moraga starting on Sept. 26 and going to the regular season finale on Nov. 21. Perennial powers BYU and San Diego visit on Oct. 5 and 7, respectively, while Bay Area rivals San Francisco and Santa Clara are the beginning and endcaps to the WCC home schedule.
Tickets will go on sale for the 2017 season on July 10. Season, group and single-match tickets will be available on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx.
The Gaels begin the season on Aug. 25 in Seattle at Washington, facing three NCAA Tournament teams in just over 24 hours. They open it all with a neutral site match versus Creighton, an “Elite Eight” team last year who has made five straight NCAA Tournaments and six of the last seven. The next morning SMC faces Pittsburgh of the Atlantic Coast Conference and a 2016 NCAA Tourney second round participant. They close the weekend with the host Huskies, who won the Pac-12 and also made last year's “Elite Eight” in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have our work cut out for us. And you know what? We can't wait. We have a great team, with great leadership and more depth than we've had in years. We are no longer a ‘young' team. This year we will have more upperclassmen on the floor than we've had the past two years. Most importantly, we're good.”
Following the intense opening weekend, Saint Mary's turns around and heads to 2015 NCAA champion Nebraska for another three matches in two days. The Gaels will face Oral Roberts and UMBC to start September before facing the host Huskers on Sept. 2.
“Some people think I'm crazy to set a schedule like the one we have, and part of me thinks they're right,” said Browning. “It will be one of the toughest pre-conference schedules in the country. I don't intentionally go out and schedule all the toughest teams I can find. If I'm invited to a tournament that interests me, I go for it. We aren't afraid to play the best.”
The Gaels made a five-win improvement last season both overall and in WCC play while facing three teams that eventually made it to the NCAA Tournament. They return 10 letterwinners from that squad and add two versatile recruits that should contribute immediately.
“The WCC will once again be a battle for every team in it,” said Browning. “It's been a very long time since a WCC team has run the table in conference. I don't know when it happened last but I don't think it's happened in my 12 seasons at Saint Mary's. I love this team. I like where we are and what we can do this season and we are all excited to get going.”
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