Going into its Oct. 4 matchup against USC in Los Angeles, the Stanford women’s volleyball team had not been swept in 55 consecutive matches — a streak dating back to Oct. 29, 2011. But in a matter of 92 minutes, the Trojans ended the run by defeating the Cardinal in three sets.
Tonight, the No. 6 Cardinal (15-4, 8-2 Pac-12) will look to extend a different streak against No. 4 USC (18-3, 8-2) once again in a match with Pac-12 Championship implications. Stanford has not lost at Maples Pavilion since Dec. 3, 2011, a run of 24 consecutive home wins.
“We are trying to get as many students there as possible,” said junior libero Kyle Gilbert. Being at home, there’s just a whole level of comfort for us. It’ll be a definite advantage.”
In the first match between the conference rivals, Stanford was out hit for just the second time this season, .358 to .245. The team’s lack of defense — surprising considering it leads the nation with 3.04 blocks per set — was a main factor in the loss. The Card tallied just four blocks in the entire match, with all four during a third set in which the team held an eight-point lead, before watching it slip away.
“The effort on defense wasn’t as strong as it could have been, and that’s something that we’ve been really working on,” Gilbert said. “Now we’re digging a lot of balls, touching a lot of balls on the block, and it’s really changed our game in the past few weeks.”
Over the six matches since the loss to USC, Stanford has averaged 16.7 digs per set, up from the team’s 15.4 mark over the first 13 matches of the season. Gilbert has led the defense with 4.75 digs per set this season — including a 5.20 average over her last six matches — good for second in the Pac-12.
A key player in turning those digs into kills has been sophomore Madi Bugg, whose 11.57 assists per set this season ranks second in the Pac-12 and 11th in the nation. She has appeared in all 63 sets for the Cardinal this season and has tallied at least 30 assists in 15 of the team’s 19 matches. The rock for the Cardinal offense all season has been senior outside hitter Carly Wopat, whose .484 hitting percentage is the best in the Pac-12 and ranks third nationally.
The Trojans enter tonight’s tussle having lost two of their last three matches, sandwiching a win against Washington State between losses against Arizona and surprise conference leader No. 3 Washington. A visit to Stanford as it looks to break its slump is not an easy matchup for USC, as the team has not won a set at Maples since 2009 and has not won a match there since 2006.
Defensively for the Trojans, the player to watch is senior libero Natalie Hagglund, who has tallied 2,059 digs over her four years and is the Pac-12 leader with 4.90 digs per set. With 13 digs in tonight’s match, Hagglund would surpass USC’s school record of 2,071.
Offensively, sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio ranks second in the country with 0.76 service aces per set, with a serve that has been clocked at over 50 mph. Freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu, who ranks second on the team with 3.09 kills per set, has earned four Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards.
The Cardinal will look to extend its home winning streak and move up in the conference standings tonight at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion. The match will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.