The last time that Stanford women’s volleyball lost a home match was in 2011, the last time USC took a set from Stanford at Maples was in 2009 and the last time that USC took a match on Stanford’s home court was in 2006.
That all ended last night as the No. 6 Cardinal (15-5, 8-3 Pac-12) fell to No. 4 USC (19-3, 9-2) in a five-set thriller (16-25, 25-23, 25-18, 22-25, 15-9).
“I’m angry because I didn’t think it had to end up this way,” said head coach John Dunning. “I have a lot of belief and confidence in our team. I’m going to have to get over the anger part of it I guess.”
Stanford was led by the sophomore duo of outside hitters Brittany Howard and Jordan Burgess, who each tallied double-doubles in the loss. Burgess finished the game with 17 kills and 25 digs, while Howard finished with 17 kills and 16 digs.
Stanford scored the first point of the match and maintained the lead and momentum throughout, winning 25-16. The Card out hit the Trojans .516 to .128 to make a big statement in the opening set, in contrast to the shutout it experienced at USC earlier in the season.
The second set was a more even trade off in points. USC led the set only once at 4-3 before Stanford went on a run and stretched the lead to as many as five points at 23-18. However, USC gained momentum off of two Stanford mistakes—an attack error and a bad set—to go on a 7-0 run to seize the set and all of the momentum heading into the halftime break. This time USC outhit the Card .222 to .164, and the Trojans would continue to have a higher attack percentage throughout the rest of the match.
“[USC is] really good when it gets down to it,” Dunning said. “We didn’t handle the situation in the end there and that’s a tough break for us. We worked really hard in the [second set] and they took it away from us there.”
Stanford came out of the intermission and got the first point, but USC maintained a one- to two-point lead for the majority of the set. Both teams played aggressively and with high intensity, but Stanford wasn’t able to finish out as many of the points and lost 25-18.
Down two sets to one, it was up to Stanford to make the adjustments, improve its blocking and rely upon the consistency of senior middle blocker Carly Wopat.
USC took the first point of the set and was quickly answered with a block from sophomore Inky Ajanaku. USC managed to find success and pull ahead with quick sets and quick hits, forcing Stanford to keep playing from behind and having to inch back. The Card kept the USC lead small at four for the most part and even closed the gap to two points at 20-18 after a kill from Howard and a USC attack error. Stanford continued the run to tie the game at 20 before a kill from Howard gave Stanford its first lead of the game and created a huge momentum shift. Stanford battled to win the set point and force the fifth set, 25-22.
“They played better and put us in a position where we had to fight back. And we did,” Dunning said. “We could’ve easily folded up in game four. We’ve been there before. We were there in Washington. And we didn’t. It’s just not in [the team] to do that.”
Stanford earned the first two points of the fifth set but USC answered right back with four of its own. The Card tried to fire down the middle coming out of its timeout, but the USC blockers were ready. It became very much the same situation as past two sets with Stanford starting to trail early, 8-5. A kill from Burgess and block from Ajanaku reduced the lead to one. However, the next two USC kills went unblocked and USC took the lead 11-8 en route to a 15-9 set victory.
“I think there’s a lot of different places where we have to get better,” Burgess said. “We’re kind of at a point in the season where you have to realize: We’ve worked as hard as we can for the past 10 months since last season to get to this point, and we only have a month and a half left…It’s time to kick it into high gear.”
The Card will now try to regroup before it hosts UCLA at Maples Pavilion Friday at 8 p.m.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.