Stanford women’s volleyball went into 2013, like past seasons, with one goal in mind: to win a national championship. The Cardinal started the season ranked third in the nation, coming off of a heartbreaking loss in the regional finals of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, which marked the team’s 32nd consecutive appearance in the tournament. With all of its starters back for the 2013 season, Stanford is considered by many to be one of the favorites for the NCAA title.
After a brutal five-match road trip that knocked Stanford out of the top five, the No. 8-ranked Cardinal retuned to Maples where it took down Cal Poly on Wednesday and Saint Mary’s on Friday, improving its record to 7-2 to finish out nonconference play.
Against Cal Poly, the Cardinal demonstrated a near-perfect offensive display, not committing an error until the third set, finishing with a .453 attack percentage and taking the match in three sets, 25-12, 25-10, 25-19. In comparison, the Mustangs committed 21 errors to finish with a .054 attack percentage and only one block to Stanford’s 11.
Sophomore Inky Ajanuku posted a season-high six blocks, while fellow classmate and setter Madi Bugg had a season-high three service aces and was just one dig shy of a double-double. Junior libero Kyle Gilbert also had a season-best match with five assists.
“We were exhausted from the road trip but…we did a lot of recovery as a team,” Ajanaku said. “We made sure that was a point this year to make sure that our bodies were the best for each game. We came out strong. I think our serving and our blocking really helped, and [we knew] they do fast sets coming into the game so we focused on that.”
Stanford dominated from the very beginning of the first set, with 14 kills on 27 hits and no errors. The momentum continued as the Cardinal again committed no errors in the second set. The third set wasn’t quite as lopsided as the opening two, with Stanford committing its first attack error while rotating in substitutes. Cal Poly buckled down to hit a match high .226, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Ajanuku’s eight kills and Stanford’s great team defense.
“We knew the tempo would be fast from scouting, so all of our blockers were on the move,” Ajanaku said.
Saint Mary’s put up a better fight on Friday night, pushing the game to four sets and revealing some of the Card’s evident tiredness left over from the long road trip.
The 25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 25-22 win was an all-around team effort with six players in particular finishing with impressive stats. Senior middle blocker Carly Wopat led the team with a season-high 16 kills while adding five blocks and three aces. Sophomore outside hitters Jordan Burgess and Brittany Howard each added a double-double and senior Rachel Williams contributed with her team-leading fourth double-double of the season. Bugg controlled the offense with 50 assists to go with seven digs and a season high of four kills and five blocks.
Stanford finished with a .255 attack percentage, while Saint Mary’s was right on its heels at .222. The Cardinal’s momentum was due to the combination of strong blocking and serving; Stanford finished with 14.5 blocks on the night, led by Ajanaku’s season-high eight blocks.
Bugg racked up 12 of her assists in the first set, helping Wopat start off strong with four kills and three digs to lead the team. The Gaels narrowly took the second set after 14 ties and five lead changes, ultimately hitting a better attack percentage than the Cardinal. Stanford came back to win the third set but still couldn’t post a higher hitting percentage.
The Cardinal outhit the Gaels in the fourth and final set and recorded five blocks to finish out the set 25-22. Wopat won the match point with an ace to seal the victory.
With its challenging nonconference schedule now complete, Stanford opens up Pac-12 play on Wednesday at Berkeley.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.