Coming off a Southern California road trip in which it was swept in a match for the first time since 2011 by No. 2 USC, Stanford women’s volleyball is eager to return to the friendly confines of Maples Pavilion, where it hasn’t lost since Dec. 3, 2011.
The No. 8 Cardinal (10-3, 2-1 Pac-12) continues its Pac-12 campaign tonight against the unranked Utah Utes (13-3, 2-2) and on Saturday against the unranked Colorado Buffaloes (11-3, 3-1).
Stanford and Utah met just in 2012, with the Cardinal posting a four-set victory in Salt Lake City as part of its 21-match winning streak. Despite Utah advantages in hitting, team blocks and service aces in the match, Stanford won three straight sets after dropping the first to pull out the win.
Friday’s match pairs two of the top three teams in blocking in the Pac-12: The Utes rank third with 2.83 blocks per set and the Cardinal ranks first, as well as first in the nation, with 3.10 blocks per set. Stanford will look to take advantage of a slight edge in size with its middle blockers, 6-foot-2 senior Carly Wopat and 6-foot-3 sophomore Inky Ajanaku, in order to counter Utah’s attack. The Utes are 12-1 in matches in which they outblock their opponents, so there promises to be a constant battle at the net.
Wopat, who leads the Pac-12 with 1.39 blocks per set and a .494 hitting percentage (third nationally), noted that the team has been focused especially on blocks this week.
“We’ve been doing a lot of defensive drills — covering, which is important for not letting blocks drop,” Wopat said, “and just getting after it offensively — tooling the block, seeing where the blockers are and hitting away from them, and just being smart with our shots.”
Senior middle blocker Erin Redd-Brandon, ranked second in the Pac-12 in blocks per set, is one of the keys to the Utes’ defensive game. She also leads the Utes with a .337 hitting percentage. Junior libero Lea Adolph is another Ute to watch, as she had a career-high 24 digs and five assists last Friday against Washington State.
Colorado will enter Saturday’s game with some swagger, having upset No. 1 Washington at home in a four-set victory a week ago. The Buffs are 2-0 against ranked opponents overall, having also defeated No. 11 UCLA in a five-set match on Sept. 27.
Two players to watch are the Simpson sisters. Junior outside hitter Taylor Simpson had a career-high 23 kills in last Sunday’s win over Washington State, and she’s averaging 3.68 kills per set, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12. True freshman libero Cierra Simpson, who decided to commit to Colorado after her sister transferred there last year, leads the team with 3.23 digs per set.
Stanford is 9-0 all time against the Buffs, including a four-set victory last season on Senior Night in Maples Pavilion.
The Card hopes to continue its recent successes against Utah and Colorado to start a new winning steak after having its eight-match streak snapped last Sunday at USC.
“Losing to USC was really tough. The whole weekend, we couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Wopat said. “We want to use that loss to be a huge motivating factor and a turning point in our season. Our goal is still to win the national championship and we still believe just as strongly that we can do it.”
Stanford hosts Utah tonight at 6 p.m. and then welcomes the Buffs for Saturday’s 7 p.m. showdown. Tonight’s contest will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.