After opening its inaugural season with a decisive 4-1 win over Santa Clara earlier this month, the Stanford women’s sand volleyball team has experienced great success with a record of 4-1. Yesterday’s 3-2 win over Pacific also ensured that it would head into its own Stanford Tournament this Sunday — and the remaining four games of the season — with momentum.
The Card downed Santa Clara in its match last week in its first program sweep, 5-0. The new number one pairing of junior Carly Wopat and freshman Brittany Howard led the team. They combined for 25 kills, 25 digs and seven aces. Howard replaced freshman Jordan Burgess in the No. 1 spot after her impressive display in the Card’s 3-2 win over Sacramento State.
“Carly had played well with Jordan, we just did [the change] to kind of switch things up and see, and [junior] Rachel [Williams] and Jordan have won their last two matches together, so it’s worked out really well,” said Stanford head coach John Dunning.
The Card lost the following match to Saint Mary’s soon after however, 4-1 — it’s first and only loss of the season.
Stanford narrowly beat Pacific 3-2 last night, though. After its dominating display the second time against Santa Clara last week, the team kept the same pairings. The Card took the first match of the day 2-0 with freshman Inky Ajanaku and junior Mary Ellen Luck. The duo remains undefeated on the season.
However, sophomore Morgan Boukather and freshman Megan McGehee, along with freshman Maddi Bugg and sophomore Kyle Gilbert dropped both their matches to put Pacific up 2-1 heading into the final matches of the night.
No. 2 duo Williams and Burgess swept their match to tie it with the Tigers, leaving the fate of the contest to No. 1 Wopat and Howard.
“[We knew] if we win this, we win as a team,” Howard said. “If we lose this, we lose as a team. So there’s always pressure overall but we just wanted to win, that’s what we were focusing on, not the overall outcome.”
After losing the first set, the Card rallied to steal the second. The communication between the rookie Howard and beach volleyball veteran, Wopat, was instrumental in their comeback.
“Carly and I felt that after the first time we played [together], we had this really great sixth sense of where the other person was, so we covered the court really well,” Howard said. “I felt that we were very much in sync.”
Howard and Wopat started the final set on a 4-0 run. Pacific kept the game close, capitalizing on short and deep shots and the set went down to the wire with the Card eventually taking the win 15-13.
With only a couple of weeks of practice under its belt prior to the start of the season, the team has come together quickly to establish itself in the young sport.
“This was a fun match because we got behind and had to come back,” Dunning said. “So they were feeling the pressure and the last couple teams had to win the match so that’s a fun situation to get in, and we handled it really well.”
It is expected that once Stanford starts recruiting specifically for sand volleyball — instead of having the crossover with indoor volleyball players — the Card will have a top-notch program experiencing success comparable to that of the highly touted indoor volleyball team.
For now though, the players accustomed to playing indoors almost year-round get a break from the monotony of off-season training while enjoying the fresh air and keeping the competitive spirit alive in the sand.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.