After a convincing six-set sweep over the Oregon schools last weekend, the No. 3 Stanford women’s volleyball team (18-2, 9-2 Pac-10) looks to bring its dominance back home as it takes on the Los Angeles schools in a pair of top-10 matchups.
The Card will face No. 10 UCLA (17-5, 7-4) on Friday and No. 7 USC (19-3, 8-3) on Sunday. With the California schools currently holding the top four spots in the conference standings—No. 2 California leads with a 10-1 conference record, followed by Stanford, USC and UCLA—this weekend’s matches could have major implications for the Pac-10 title.
On Friday, Stanford will have the opportunity to avenge a heartbreaking five-set loss to the Bruins in early October. The match marked the Card’s first loss of the season and knocked the team out of the No. 1 spot in the national rankings.
“Since dropping a match to UCLA earlier this season, our team has focused a lot on respecting the challenges that the Pac-10 throws at you each week,” said sophomore setter Karissa Cook, who returned to the lineup last weekend after battling an injury early in the season. “There are no ‘off weeks’ to coast through in our league, and in our practices we have really focused on matching that same level of relentless competition that we see each weekend.”
UCLA has won its last four matches, including a five-set victory last Friday over No. 11 Washington (17-5, 6-5). The Bruins snapped an eight-match losing streak to the Huskies.
Senior outside hitter Dicey McGraw and sophomore opposite Rachael Kidder, who have led the UCLA offense all season, shined in the match against Washington, with 24 kills and 17 kills, respectively. However, neither Kidder nor McGraw ranks among the conference’s kills or points leaders, and it is a different Bruin, junior middle blocker Katie Camp, who is 10th in the Pac-10 in hitting percentage (.337).
Defensively, UCLA continues to stand out. The Bruins lead the Pac-10 in digs with an average of 15.45 per set, while junior libero Lainey Gera is the individual digs leader, averaging 4.72 per set. Gera tallied 25 digs in the Bruins’ last meeting with the Cardinal.
USC, like UCLA, has not lost a match in its last two weeks of conference play, and also emerged victorious in a five-set thriller over Washington last weekend. In addition, the Women of Troy have the distinction of being the only team to beat two one-loss top-five teams—Cal and No. 4 Hawaii—this season.
Junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter’s combined 42 kills against Washington and Washington State last weekend earned her both Pac-10 player of the week and AVCA national player of the week honors. Jupiter finished with 30 kills against the Huskies and a .414 hitting percentage in addition to 14 digs. She has proven herself as one of the conference’s top attackers—she is fourth in the conference in kills and points per set, with averages of 4.5 and 5.35—and is second in service aces.
Two other juniors, setter Kendall Bateman and middle blocker Lauren Williams, have also been imperative to USC’s success. Bateman leads the Pac-10 and is second in the nation in assists (12.34 per set), while Williams boasts the conference’s best hitting percentage at .414.
The Cardinal has fared well against both squads historically, with a 40-33 all-time record against the Bruins and a 54-18 record against the Trojans. However, with a loss to UCLA this season already and a competitive USC squad looming, both teams will be dangerous.
“Heading into another big weekend, our team is looking to put distance between us and the southern California schools who are currently 3rd and 4th in the Pac-10 conference standings,” Cook said. “This weekend is an opportunity for us to get better as a team and to gain confidence nearing the end of league play and heading into the postseason. Cardinal fans can expect some competitive volleyball this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.”
The Card will take on UCLA on Friday at 7 p.m. and USC on Sunday at 1 p.m. Both matches will be played in Maples Pavilion.