As if playing an undefeated Oregon squad wasn’t enough pressure for the women’s volleyball team on Friday night, the Cardinal was doing it under the watchful eyes of the 1992 Stanford side, which won the program’s first NCAA title and was being honored for Reunion Homecoming Weekend.
The prospect of overconfidence might have been a concern under the circumstances, but the team came out with poise and determination from the opening serve.
Freshman Brittany Howard set a career high with 14 kills against the Ducks. “We just take it one game at a time,” she said, “and obviously the winning streak is phenomenal, and we feel really good and it’s building our confidence, but just because you won the past games doesn’t mean you’re going to win the next ones.”
A large crowd watched as Stanford pulled off a close 25-23 win in the first set against Oregon. Hard-fought points and rallies weren’t enough in the second set, however, as the Ducks’ defense shone and its attack finally found its groove in a 25-18 second set win.
Coming out of the second set tied 1-1, freshman Morgan Burgess said the team wasn’t close to folding. “We didn’t really feel that we had been playing our best,” Burgess said. “Even in the first set, so we just wanted to refocus and start over and remember that we were tied 1-1, it wasn’t like we were losing.”
The Cardinal came out firing in the third set with a quick two points before the Ducks made a 4-0 run. Howard then made the kill that gave the Cardinal a little momentum back. But Oregon got its confidence back as its defense continued to hold strong and regained an 11-8 lead. As was the case all night, however, the match continued to go back and forth. There were 14 ties and nine lead changes in the set, but Oregon capitalized on several attack errors and won five of the seven points to take the third set 23-25 and take a 2-1 set lead in the match.
But with the crowd on its feet, Stanford’s attack roared to life in the fourth set. The Card hit a match-high .326 in the set, taking a 14-10 lead and dominating down the stretch in a 25-20 victory, forcing a fifth set.
Oregon came out with a dogged determination in the fifth set. Again, it was a big point by Howard that snapped the Ducks 4-0 run and provided the Cardinal with the impetus to keep pushing. They eventually clawed back to tie the game at eight. Stanford had already gained an 11-9 lead before Oregon coach Jim Moore called a timeout. The Cardinal took charge the rest of the set, only allowing Oregon to score one more point and finishing the game with a 15-10 win in the fifth set.
“We just have a lot of individuals who fight hard, so when we come together it creates this energy where we just don’t want to lose, so we’ll just keep fighting for it,” Burgess said of the team’s effort in the fifth set.
Before being knocked off by the Cardinals, Oregon had only lost four sets previously in the season. The Ducks drop to 14-1 overall and 5-1 in the conference. On being a contributing factor in breaking Oregon’s winning streak Howard said, “It feels really good. I have the greatest teammates and they’ll support me whether I’m having a good game or a bad game. It was amazing that I could perform tonight and that we could come out with the win”.
Throughout the game, the floor was dominated by at least three freshmen on the court at all times. It has been apparent from the start of the season though that they mesh quite comfortably with the team veterans.
As freshmen Madi Bugg and Megan McGehee said, “We [the freshman] are one third of the team and the older girls really made it so easy for us to become a part of the team and they welcomed us and its been so much fun and we just love playing together.”
Head coach John Dunning enjoys the luxury of having such a deep team. “There’s a bunch of people that step up at different times and I don’t think we’ve had a match everyone is on yet,” he said. “We have a lot of depth and we’re not afraid to use it. We have a group of fifteen people who can come in and help us at any time.”
In addition to Howard’s career high in kills, freshman Inky Ajanaku totaled eight kills and posted a career-high 10 blocks. Sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert finished with a career-high 24 digs.
Sunday’s win over Oregon State wasn’t quite as exciting, but it was definitely more efficient.
The Cardinal didn’t trail in the first set, a 25-19 win, and turned on the jets in the 25-14 second-game victory with a .457 hitting percentage. It wasted little time in the third, either, wrapping up the afternoon in a little over an hour with another 25-14 win.
A huge contributor in the game was Bugg, who made scrappy plays and was all over the court the third set. Bugg totaled 24 assists, nine digs and two kills.
“I felt confident because when your defense and hitters are as good as ours then there’s no reason not to feel confident,” she said.
Stanford finished the match with a 25-14 win in the third set. At the end of the match Stanford coach John Dunning was able to make plenty of substitutions. One such bench player, freshman middle blocker Megan McGehee, came into the game late in the third set and had two key kills that earned the Cardinal the victory.
“It was a lot of fun to just get thrown in there and get to play. Everything happened pretty quick,” McGehee said of her first action in conference play.
Dunning was excited, if also a little cautious, to see his team playing so well. “This is a real interesting streak we’re going through…Each day our team is doing a really good job of saying, ‘Well this is the team in front of us,’ and we got a lot of confidence from playing Oregon and Oregon State this weekend and that’s going to make us more ready for next week. “
The Cardinal plays USC tomorrow and UCLA on Friday, both at Maples Pavilion.