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W. Volleyball: Dropping the ball

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The No. 1 Stanford women’s volleyball team (14-1, 5-1 Pac-10) headed south last weekend to face No. 8 USC (14-3, 3-2) and No. 12 UCLA (12-4, 2-3) on Friday and Saturday. To kick off the weekend, the Card pulled out a four-set victory over the Trojans, 18-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-16. However, Stanford couldn’t keep up its momentum, and the Bruins ended the Cardinal’s undefeated run in a five-set thriller the following night, 25-21, 16-25, 25-27, 25-23, 15-12.

USC got off to a quick start after aggressive serving by senior outside hitter Geena Urango and junior setter Kendall Bateman that kept the Cardinal offense off the net. Early attacking errors from the Stanford side combined with three consecutive kills by USC freshman Falyn Fonoimoana added to the Trojan lead, which peaked at 17-7 mid-set. USC held the Card to a .125 hitting percentage on the set, which at that point was the lowest on the season.

Senior outside hitter Alix Klineman has led the Cardinal in kills in 11 straight matches. She had 27 kills in both matches last weekend (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

Despite another huge serving run by Urango that brought the Trojans up to 11-6 to kick off the second set, the Cardinal pulled out a slim 25-23 victory to split sets. USC senior outside hitter Alex Jupiter earned four early kills, yet the 10 combined kills of Stanford’s priorities—senior outside hitter Alix Klineman and sophomore opposite Hayley Spelman—gave the Card the offense edge. It was a pair of untimely errors from the Trojan service line that ultimately cost USC the set by a two-point deficit.

After the break, the teams traded leads twice before a trio of consecutive kills from Klineman allowed Stanford to pull ahead 11-9. Cardinal momentum built throughout the set, as Klineman added three more kills to two pivotal side-out kills by Spelman. Redshirt junior middle blocker Stephanie Browne concluded the set with a solo block of USC middle blocker Lauren Williams. Stanford took the set 25-20.

Five tied scores early on in the fourth suggested an inevitable battle for the set and match. However, Cardinal senior libero Gabi Ailes took control of the match mid-set by punching out a pair of aces in a five-point run. Klineman, Spelman and Browne tallied 14 kills on the set to score a 25-15 win, earning the Card the match.

Klineman totaled 27 kills to become the kill leader for her 10th consecutive match, while Jupiter slid in second with 19 kills.

The USC defense gave the Cardinal front line a battle as four Trojans recorded double-digit digging totals. The Trojans rank third in Pac-10 digging stats, while the Cardinal sits in second.

However, UCLA embodies defensive success, leading the conference in digs per set since the beginning of Pac-10 play.

The Cardinal started its campaign in Pauley Pavilion neck-and-neck with the Bruins until three Cardinal hitters contributed three consecutive errors to give UCLA the lead, 14-13. A pair of kills by senior outside hitter Dicey McGraw gave the Bruins a three-point lead. The Card then dropped quickly to a 24-19 deficit with a series of unforced errors, and closed the set with a service error.

The beginning of the second set mirrored the first, yet the outcome reversed when a block by Spelman and freshman middle blocker Carly Wopat forced three hitting errors from the Bruins. The Cardinal stole the momentum, holding the Bruins to a hitting percentage of .000 to pull out a 25-16 win and split the sets.

Ten tied scores characterized the third set, which forced the “win-by-two” rule into effect when Stanford took the set with a pair of attacking errors from the Bruins. The rallying of the score paralleled the long rallies that enabled Klineman and Ailes to accumulate 20 digs apiece.

Gera, working in tandem with sophomore outside hitter Bojana Todorovic, controlled the Bruin defense and serve-receive formation. The Cardinal took the set, 27-25, to lead the match 2-1.

Klineman carried the Stanford offense in the fourth set, with contributing kills by Browne and senior setter Cassidy Lichtman at the beginning of the set. Timely kills by UCLA outside hitter Rachael Kidder and middle blocker Katie Camp throughout the set kept the Bruins in control. Each beat down a kill in opposition to Klineman’s pair at the end of the set as the Bruins maintained their two-point lead to take the set 25-23 and bring the score to 2-2.

Because both teams tacked on a number of service and attacking errors in the fifth set, it was Kidder’s dominant offensive performance that earned the Bruins the upset, 15-12. She added an unprecedented seven kills for UCLA in the final set, giving her 25 on the night.

Klineman led with 27 kills, hitting .243 to Kidder’s .110 across the five sets. The loss was Stanford’s first on the season.

The Cardinal remains first in the Pac-10 after Saturday’s defeat, although rival Cal now shares the position with the same 5-1 conference record.

Stanford’s next two matches are at Maples Pavilion, where it will face Washington on Friday and Washington State on Saturday. Both matches are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

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