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Card dismantles Hampton in first round of NCAAs

It was business as usual for Stanford women’s volleyball as the Cardinal began its campaign for a seventh national championship and its first since 2004.

The No. 7 Cardinal (25-5) earned its 20th straight-set victory of the season, as it dominated the Hampton Pirates (19-11), 25-10, 25-10, 25-11. It was Stanford’s 10th consecutive win, which extended the team’s longest such streak of the season.

Sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (top left) (StanfordPhoto.com)

Sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (top left) helped lead Stanford’s dominant and efficient offense in Thursday’s opening NCAA victory against Hampton. (StanfordPhoto.com)

Hampton, which made its longest trip of the season away from the East Coast, often seemed overwhelmed by both the atmosphere of Maples Pavilion and the strength of its opponent, as it had not seen teams of Stanford’s caliber as a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Pirates head coach Karen Weatherington, when asked if any particular Stanford players impressed her, said, “Yes, every one … We knew we had our work cut out for us, and it was very impressive to see them work together.”

Stanford was able to exploit Hampton’s undersized lineup throughout the match with aggressive play at the net from its middle blockers, senior Carly Wopat and sophomore Inky Ajanaku. Wopat hit .733 for the match with 11 kills and six blocks, while Ajanaku hit .714 with 10 kills and two blocks. The Card tallied nine total blocks in the match to the Pirates’ two.

Overall, the Cardinal outhit the Pirates .452 to .022 for its highest hitting percentage since an Oct. 25 match against Oregon State. Sophomore setter Madi Bugg was able to distribute the ball well to the middles consistently, contributing to the Card’s 43 kills.

“Inky and I are both aggressive hitters, so when we get up there, we want to swing away,” Wopat said. “We had a lot of openings tonight because Madi set us really well. “

Stanford also had six service aces to Hampton’s one — notable, as the Pirates entered the match leading the nation with 1.99 aces per set. Junior libero Kyle Gilbert played a role in both of those statistics, hitting a season-high three aces in the match and also digging eight balls.

Up next for the Cardinal in the second round of the tournament is Oklahoma (24-7), who defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide (24-10) earlier Thursday evening at Maples, winning three straight sets after dropping the first, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-23.

The Sooners pose a completely different challenge than the Pirates did, with a projected starting lineup with an average height of 6-foot-1 compared to Hampton’s small lineup that relied on a strong serve and good defense. Oklahoma tallied 18 team blocks in its first round matchup against Alabama, a team that was the third-best statistical offense in the SEC.

Oklahoma is led by senior middle Sallie McLaurin, who was unanimously selected to the Big-12 First Team. McLaurin finished the season hitting .423, averaging 3.76 kills per set and 1.34 blocks per set.

The second round NCAA match between Stanford and Oklahoma, with a spot in the Lexington, Ky., regional on the line, is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at Maples Pavilion.

Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ Stanford.edu.

About Jordan Wallach

Jordan Wallach is a sports desk editor at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat writer for Stanford's baseball and women's volleyball teams. Jordan is a freshman from New York City and is a prospective chemical engineering major. To contact him, please send him an email at jwallach 'at' stanford.edu.