With the eyes of the Pac-12 squarely on Palo Alto for Wednesday’s women’s volleyball showdown between No. 6 USC and No. 4 Stanford, the Cardinal proved that it is a major force to be dealt with in both the conference and national title picture.
While the Trojans (16-3, 4-3 Pac-12) came into Maples Pavilion as one of the hottest teams in the league, with a lineup featuring the league’s two most recent Player of the Week winners, it took just three sets for Stanford to stretch its winning streak to 13 games.
The Cardinal has proven to be quite formidable at home, winning all seven of its matches at Maples. And while the first set went back-and-forth, it didn’t take too long for Stanford to prove why.
USC held a 16-15 lead when Stanford went on a massive run, recording seven straight points to jump out to a 22-16 lead. The streak featured three straight blocks, part of the eight Stanford totaled in the set. Ultimately, USC couldn’t combat Stanford’s dominant stretch and the Cardinal took the set 25-18. Junior middle blocker Carly Wopat was especially brilliant, recording five blocks in the first set while simultaneously leading the team with four kills.
Stanford’s hot streak continued into the second set. The Cardinal started with four straight points and didn’t look back, ultimately taking the set 25-16. Freshman outside hitter Brittany Howard recorded five kills, proving unstoppable against what was touted before the match as a stout Trojan defense.
The final set again began back-and-forth, with neither side gaining much of an advantage over the other. With the score 8-7 in the Trojans’ favor, the Cardinal went on yet another run, winning eight points out of nine and seizing a lead that it would never relinquish. Unable to make up any ground, the Trojans dropped the last set 25-18 as the Cardinal claimed its second straight sweep and 13th straight win.
The heralded Stanford freshman all had standout games. Howard and middle blocker Inky Ajanaku led the team with 12 kills each while hitting .414 and .529, respectively. Jordan Burgess, also an outside hitter, added seven kills and 19 digs, while hitting .467.
The Stanford defense was particularly tough on the Trojans, holding the USC stars, freshman outsider hitter Samantha Bricio and senior opposite Katie Fuller, to -.042 and -.037 hitting, respectively.
Bricio won last week’s AVCA Player of the Week, Pac-12 Player of the Week and her third straight Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors last week, but was unable to get anything going against the vicious Cardinal defense. She recorded more errors (12) than kills (10), slowing the USC attack.
The Cardinal had 26 blocks in the match, with Wopat putting up seven and junior outside hitter Rachel Williams and Ajanaku adding six each. At the same time, sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert was all over the court, with 22 digs on the match, demonstrating just how daunting the Cardinal defense can be.
The Cardinal will put its 13-game winning streak to the test against the No. 7 UCLA Bruins on Friday in Maples Pavilion at 6 p.m.