It was a battle from the beginning, but the Stanford women’s volleyball team clinched its 18th consecutive win of the season Friday night at Maples Pavilion against the Arizona State Sun Devils to improve their record to 20-2 overall. The matchup started the second half of conference play for the Card after it came out of the first half leading the Pac-12 with an undefeated 12-0 record.
“When you get to the second half of the season you are kind of prepared by the first half,” said head coach John Dunning. “We want to keep improving so we can get some distance between us and other people. When we played at Arizona State six weeks ago we won 25-23 in the fourth and it was a battle the whole time, and our team remembers that and knows we really had to step up. We beat them and they wanted to beat us, and it was pretty close. Almost every match in the Pac-12 is like that, where we have to keep fighting.”
The momentum of the first set started out in the Card’s favor as it hit .472 and committed only one attack error. An impressive defensive start held the ASU offense to just .176, and the Card decisively won the set 25-15.
The rest of the game, however, would prove to be a struggle. ASU outhit Stanford .255 to .200 in the second set and held the lead throughout. A 5-0 run by Stanford tied the game at 15, but a 6-0 run by ASU was too much for the Card to overcome as the Sun Devils took the set 25-19.
“Everyone was a little frustrated because we knew we could do better, and everyone knew what they needed to work on individually,” said junior outside hitter Rachel Williams. “There was a lot of focus in the locker room and we went over the list of things we needed to get better at, and then we went out and did it for the most part.”
Williams led the team with 13 kills and recorded a career-high .684 attack percentage. Middle blocker Carly Wopat was another junior who let her presence be known as the Card came back strong in the third set. Wopat, who made her 400th career block, totaled seven kills and four blocks.
“I think there was a shift in the third game,” Wopat said. “We started going after balls that weren’t perfect and really scrambling for plays that were difficult, but it gave us a lot of energy. And I think that’s where the shift happened and we just started making more and more plays and we started playing our style of volleyball—just scrappy and every single player just playing together.”
In the third set, the Card played a completely different game defensively and held ASU to a .070 attack percentage. They finished the match in the fourth set with a 25-20 win. Though ASU rallied late in the set to come within just two points, freshman Brittany Howard and Williams had four kills each to lead Stanford.
Freshman Inky Ajanaku added three kills, while libero Kyle Gilbert collected five digs. Macey Gardner finished with a match-high 20 kills to lead the Sun Devils. Arizona State’s record dropped to 15-10 overall, 4-10 in the Pac-12.
Freshman Jordan Burgess recorded another double-double with 12 kills and seven digs, Ajanaku hit an impressive .556 and Howard also recorded a double-double with 10 kills and 14 digs. However, it was the poise and experience of Williams and Wopat that helped the Card snag the 3-1 victory.
Wopat recognized the need for a resurgence of energy after the second-set loss and provided the passionate spark to get the team going. “Our team has been in a lot of tough situations this year, and we have this style of play where we go after every ball and we’re mentally tough. So I think we did a really good job of doing that,” said Wopat.
Next week, the Card travels to play Oregon State and Oregon. While Stanford remains the only Pac-12 team undefeated in conference play, Oregon has dropped just one conference game, to the Cardinal earlier in the season.
Dunning stressed the importance of the Oregon game for the rest of the season.
“We could put ourselves in the driver’s seat if we win, so there’s no way our team isn’t going to be ready for that,” he said. “We know how good they are and we know how we played against them last time. I think we learned a lot about how to play them, and I’m sure it will be a good match.”