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W. Vball: Freshmen lead Pac-12 opening sweep

Freshmen usually have the opportunity to ease into the bitter Stanford-Cal rivalry, observing the competitive animosity from a comfortable and risk-free bench seat. They are able to acclimate to the heated atmosphere, a scenario in which one team invariably must let their entire school down. However, this is not the case for many of the freshmen on the Stanford women’s volleyball team, who’ve been tossed right into the middle of the rivalry with Cal.

Due to a couple of injuries, most notably to former All-Pac-12 setter Karissa Cook, a group of freshmen have seen heavy action for the Cardinal (10-2, 2-0 Pac-12) early on. That didn’t change when the UC-Berkeley Golden Bears (7-5, 1-1 Pac-12) rolled into town on Wednesday night, and the talented crop of freshmen managed to carry Stanford to a sweep of the Bears.

The Card got it rolling early on, jumping out to an early 7-2 lead on the strength of freshman setter Madi Bugg, who distributed the ball well to the players up front. Stanford continued to set the tone, going up 11-6. A kill from freshman outside hitter Jordan Burgess, an ace from classmate Brittany Howard, and a kill from junior Carly Wopat put Stanford up 14-6 and forced Cal coach Rich Feller to call a timeout. The Golden Bears settled down following the break in play, but weren’t able to overcome the early deficit, as the Card took the first set by a count of 25-17.

Sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert (10) had 27 digs in Stanford’s victories over California and Utah this weekend. The No. 6 Cardinal moved to 10-2 overall and a perfect 2-0 in conference play.

Cal carried the momentum they earned at the end of the first set over into the second, hanging with Stanford initially. They forced an early 5-5 tie before Stanford took over. Consecutive kills by Howard, Burgess and Bugg set the tone and the Card cruised from there, dismantling Cal en route to a 25-17 second set victory.

Backed firmly against the wall, Cal would not go down without a fight. A pair of kills by senior middle blocker Shannon Hawari put the Golden Bears up 6-4. Stanford would roar back, as freshman middle blocker Inky Ajanku and Burgess combined for three kills to help the Card recapture the lead. This early sequence proved to be the story of the set, as neither squad managed to pull away. After grabbing a 25-24 lead, just a point away from winning the set, Cal sophomore Marlee Davis served into the net, tying the set. Stanford then managed to grab a 27-26 lead. Middle blocker Wopat ended the set and match for Stanford with a kill.

Wopat, Burgess and Bugg keyed an overall dominant performance from the Cardinal. Burgess recorded a team-high 16 kills (.467) to go along with a solid 13 digs. Wopat added 14 of her own, while Bugg set the tone with a stellar 50 assists. Overall, it was a solid performance from the Card, which is currently ranked sixth in the country.

Next up for Stanford on Friday night was the talented group from Salt Lake City, the Utah Utes (9-6, 0-2 Pac-12). It became clear early on they would put up more of a fight than Cal. Utah quickly took control of the first set, as a couple of early errors put the Cardinal in a hole. Utah sophomore Shelby Dalton set the pace with five kills in the first set, leading the Utes to a 25-17 win.

It looked as though the second set was going to be a similar story, as the Utes jumped out to an early 4-0 lead on four straight attack errors by Stanford. However, after falling behind 8-5, the Card began to buckle down. Stanford scored four straight points of their own, forcing Utah to call a timeout after a phenomenal block from Wopat.

From there, neither team was able to pull away, eventually leading to a 21-20 Utah lead. A pair of kills from Morgan Boukather and Burgess put the Card within a point of tying the match at one set each. Burgess then put the set away with a kill, giving Stanford a 25-22 victory.

The third set also went to the Card, as it won 25-23 in another nail biter. Early on, it became obvious that this set was going to mirror the rest of the match, as neither Stanford nor Utah could gain the upper hand. Stanford managed to pull ahead, going up 20-15. A match victory was in sight, but the Utes had other plans, scratching and clawing to tie the game at 24 apiece. However, Wopat and Howard each earned a kill to put Stanford at match point, and an attack error by Utah hitter Baily Bartman gave Stanford the win.

It was a good start to Pac-12 play for Stanford, which finished in fourth place last season. The Card travels to Arizona next weekend to take on Arizona and Arizona State next weekend in another pair of conference matches.

About Mike Schwartz

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-R-Grout/1350187330 John R. Grout

    With all the freshmen coming in and all the returning players, Gilbert was the first Stanford player to win her position… libero… and is the only Stanford player to play in every set this season. We’ll see a lot more of her in a contrasting libero jersey this season.