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Women’s volleyball ready to regroup after narrowly avoiding first loss

Junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (left) rallied the Card in Wednesday's win over Arizona with four kills in the final set. (FRANK CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

A seemingly easy three-set sweep quickly devolved into a hard fought, five-set battle for the Stanford’s women’s volleyball team (23-0, 13-0 Pac-12) against Arizona State on Wednesday night at Maples. The Cardinal, however, were still able to maintain their perfect record and defend their No. 1 ranking with the win over the No. 20 Sun Devils.

Junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (left) rallied the Card in Wednesday's win over Arizona with four kills in the final set. (FRANK CHEN/The Stanford Daily)
Junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (left) rallied the Card in Wednesday’s win over Arizona with four kills in the final set. (FRANK CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

Junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess conceded that Wednesday’s match was one of the toughest of the season and one of the hardest fought wins because despite nothing going their way in the final three sets, the Cardinal were still able to find a way to win, demonstrating their composure and the need to play together and rely on each other. Burgess recorded her team-high 14th double-double in the victory, tallying 16 kills and 17 digs.

“Seasons are made on moments and when you rise to the occasion and grab it, you’re going to learn from that and you’re going to believe in it and have confidence,” said head coach John Dunning. “We’ve had a lot of close matches and have come on top and you begin to believe that that’s what you’re going to do.”

In Stanford’s fourth fifth-set win of the season, the team overcame a staunch Sun Devils attack that targeted the Stanford blockers and capitalized in serving off of weak serve returns to poke holes in the Cardinal style of play and force them to make adjustments.

“We are pretty good at fifth sets this year, so I think we went into it really confident and it helps when the entire team has a mentality that we’re going to win this game,” said junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, who led the Card’s 11-4 scoring run against Arizona State in the fifth set. “You just have to do the moves, not be passive and really attack.”

The Cardinal still have a lot to improve upon after narrowly avoiding its first loss of the season. After the game, Dunning told the team to rest up because with the two-hour practice on Thursday ahead of the Arizona match, the team would be “doing a lot of moving around.”

“John just told us [practice] is going to be a lot of blocking,” Ajanaku said. “They took us out of our offense a little bit so we’re going to do a lot of transitioning into hitting. Just those two things because we hit pretty well and passed pretty well. When the game gets kind of crazy, we get out of our offense and don’t attack as hard, so we need to work on that.”

No. 16 Arizona (18-6, 7-5) will face off against the Cardinal tonight and will attempt to solve the Stanford problem, heeding the adjustments that Arizona State came out of the halftime with, laying the groundwork for the blueprint on how to beat Stanford.

The Wildcats have split their last five conference series and are looking to break that streak and overcome the 1-1 trend. Stanford will have to narrow in on the third set in particular in order to put Arizona away, as the Wildcats are 17-0 this season when they win the third set and 1-6 otherwise.

Arizona’s senior outside hitter Madi Kingdon recorded 36 kills in two matches last weekend and is averaging 5.27 kills per game, good for third-best in the country, leading the offensive attack for the Wildcats. Ronni Lewis’ 4.16 digs lead Arizona’s defense, which paces the conference overall with an average of 16.52 digs per set.

First serve at Maples Pavilion tonight is set for 7:30 p.m. The match will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Contact Ashley Westhem ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem was Editor in Chief of Vol. 248 after serving as Executive Editor and Managing Editor of Sports. She is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She graduated in 2016 and is currently a Communications masters student. Ashley is from Lake Tahoe, California.