The last time the Stanford women’s volleyball team lost a match, Stanford was not close to being in session and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were a month away from their first presidential debate. Thursday night in Los Angeles, Cardinal’s incredible 22-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of No. 8 USC, 3-1.
During No. 1 Stanford’s dominant stretch, the Cardinal (24-3, 16-1 Pac-12) had made a habit of starting slow and finishing strong, blowing teams out of the water during the second half of most sets. As USC (25-4, 13-4) grabbed an early lead, signs pointed towards the Cardinal making a quick comeback.
Down 12-8 in the opening set Stanford started to do just that, going on a 5-1 run that briefly tied the game at 13 apiece. The Trojans rallied back, however, earning three straight points and putting the Cardinal in a hole it would be unable to climb out of. Backed by six kills from freshman outsider hitter Samantha Bricio and five from senior opposite Katie Fuller, USC was able to pull out a 25-19 victory.
The second set was entirely back-and-forth, as the teams exchanged blows without either managing to gain an advantage over the other. With USC up 21-20 late in the set the Trojans finally erupted. Fuller posted back-to-back kills, leading the Trojans on a 4-0 run and giving them a 25-21 second set victory.
Knowing that it needed a third set victory to have a chance of keeping its streak running, Stanford came out after the break with absolute intensity. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, the Trojans refused to quit, matching Stanford blow-for-blow.
Neither team was able to gain more than a three-point lead, trading blows left and right. With Stanford down 26-27 and on the verge of defeat, the Cardinal finally took off. Freshman outside hitters Jordan Burgess and Brittany Howard recorded back-to-back kills, and freshman middle blocker Inky Ajanaku was able to put the Trojans away, giving Stanford the 29-27 set victory.
The fourth set was again do-or-die for the Cardinal, and again incredibly even. With the score tied at 21, Bricio put it on herself to end Stanford’s streak. The freshman recorded three kills in the next six points, helping the Trojans to a 25-22 set win and four set victory.
Bricio would finish with a match-high 19 kills as well as 22 digs. Trojan libero Natalie Hagglund added an incredible defensive effort, posting 44 digs and consistently frustrating the Stanford attackers, holding them to .187 hitting for the match.
The Stanford defense put forth its usual incredible effort, however, causing the Trojans to hit just .250. Sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert posted 32 digs, while Burgess had 25 digs and three blocks to go along with her 15 kills.
Howard, fresh off winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and her second straight freshman-of-the-week honors, had another strong effort with 15 kills and 22 digs.
While it was a disappointing loss for the Cardinal, Stanford still sits in first in the Pac-12, with a two-game lead over Oregon and three games to play. The Cardinal will face No. 5 UCLA in Los Angeles tomorrow night in the hopes of starting a new streak.