The No. 6 Stanford women’s volleyball team went into its game against No. 10 California looking to avenge an early-season loss. Locked in a tie for fourth in conference play, a win here would have propelled Stanford above Cal in the Pac-12 standings and into the NCAA Tournament with momentum.
However, the Golden Bears (26-6, 16-6 Pac-12) had different plans, as they beat Stanford (23-7, 15-7) in four sets at Maples Pavilion. With the win, Cal moved into third place in the Pac-12 while Stanford slid down to fifth.
The first set would define the tempo of the entire match, one that would be a hard-fought struggle between two of the best teams in the nation. This set featured 11 ties and seven lead changes, as neither team could pull away. After an attacking error gave Cal a late 24-22 lead, the Card rallied from set point, winning three straight points to take a 25-24 lead. Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Williams’ kill gave Stanford the first set.
The Golden Bears bounced back in the second set, jumping out to an early 4-0 lead. Stanford would quickly fight back, tying the set at 6-6. Similar to the first set, there were 15 ties in the second. Down 24-23, a pair of kills by junior setter Karissa Cook and Williams gave Stanford a 25-24 lead and the chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead. However, Cal showed its resiliency, tying the match on a Shannon Hawari kill. The Golden Bears would go on to win the set 29-27, squaring the match at one set apiece. This would prove to be the turning point in the match.
The trend continued into a third set that saw six more lead changes. The biggest lead in the set for either team was three points, as neither Stanford nor Cal could break away. After Cal snapped a 22-22 tie with two straight points, Stanford head coach John Dunning was forced to call a timeout. Stanford saved the first set point with a kill by sophomore middle blocker Carly Wopat, but couldn’t save the second, as a kill by Cal’s Correy Johnson gave the Bears the 25-23 win.
Now down two sets to one, Stanford looked almost helpless in the fourth set. After losing the first three points, the Card called its first timeout. However, things did not change, as the team dropped four of the next five points to go down 7-1. Another timeout would not be the answer for the Cardinal, as it went on to lose the set 25-14 in convincing fashion.
Despite the loss, many Stanford players had good matches against a very competitive Cal team. Both Wopat and Cook had personal-record-setting performances. Cook tallied her 18th straight double-double, racking up a career-high 21 digs and 50 assists. Wopat was a force up front, recording her first 20-plus kill performance. She ended the game with a team-high 22 kills on a .553 hitting percentage. Williams pitched in with 19 kills of her own. Still, it wasn’t enough for the Cardinal.
While the loss was surely a disappointment for Stanford, it makes little difference in hindsight. The Card advanced to its 31st consecutive NCAA Tournament, joining Penn State as one of the only two teams to make the tournament in every year of its existence.
Stanford has the No. 11 overall seed and will take on Sacred Heart in the first round on Friday at Maples Pavilion.