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Cardinal sweep UCLA, cap off perfect SoCal road trip

In the midst of a historic run, Stanford’s women’s volleyball passed two big tests on the road this week, in arenas that have not been too kind to the team in recent history. After sweeping No. 21 USC on Wednesday night, the Cardinal handed UCLA the same result on Thursday, defeating the Bruins in straight sets in Westwood for the first time since 2002.

Brittany Howard (16), Women's volleyball v. ASU
Junior outside hitter Brittany Howard (center) “played her best volleyball of the year this week,” head coach John Dunning said. She had 10 kills and hit .450 in Thursday night’s win over UCLA. (FRANK CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

The No. 1 Cardinal (26-0, 16-0 Pac-12) took the three-set match against the No. 16 Bruins (17-9, 8-7), 25-21, 26-24, 25-22, capping off a perfect Southern California road trip. The two mid-week victories marked the first time that Stanford had won each of its games against USC and UCLA in its annual trip down south since 2009.

“This was a big week for us. Every year, USC and UCLA are really good, and it’s been a while since we’d won both on this trip,” said head coach John Dunning. “It’s hard for everyone, and we played them back-to-back, which is even harder. So it’s amazing to come away with two wins, and it’s amazing to come away with two wins in three games.”

While the teams went back-and-forth for nearly the entire match — at most, three points separated the two teams in the second and third sets — the Cardinal seemed to have a silent confidence throughout, something that has characterized a majority of their victories thus far this season.

Overall, Stanford hit .310 in the match while holding UCLA to a .229 clip, taking advantage of five blocks each from sophomore middle blocker Merete Lutz and junior outside hitter Brittany Howard. The Cardinal also tallied four service aces, two of them from senior opposite hitter Morgan Boukather.

Bruins senior outside hitter Karsta Lowe seemingly took over the match at times en route to tallying a match-high 21 kills on 41 attempts, yet Stanford’s varied offensive attack proved to be too much for the UCLA defense, as it has for many other teams this year.

Howard led the Cardinal’s attack from the outside with 10 kills on a .450 hitting percentage on Thursday, prompting Dunning to say after the match that she “played her best volleyball of the year this week; she’s really improving right now.” Meanwhile, Stanford’s middles — sophomore Merete Lutz and junior Inky Ajanaku — combined for 27 kills with just four errors for a .561 hitting percentage.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit with the connection in the middle for a couple of weeks with Inky and Merete and with Madi, and we’ve been working on it when we could,” Dunning said. “It got a lot better: Inky and Merete both played very well offensively both nights this week.

“It was just the total team effort. We’re trying to eliminate mistakes, and we really did that tonight, much better than we did at USC. For us, this is a big step forward.”

Now undefeated through 26 matches this season, Stanford is just one win shy of matching its program record of 27, set in 1991. But before the team thinks ahead about their next match, they will have the next three days off of all volleyball activity — much-needed rest given the grueling Pac-12 schedule and competition.

The team continues its journey next Friday against Utah to kick off its final two regular season matches at Maples Pavilion.

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

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