No Inky, no problem.
Stanford’s women’s volleyball team swept both Texas A&M (25-19, 25-19, 25-15) and Minnesota (25-15, 25-23, 25-18) in its opening weekend without its top two middle blockers from 2014. Here’s what we learned from the No. 2 Cardinal (2-0) in Week One:
Veterans will be veterans
As expected, a disproportionate number of Cardinal attacks came from their outside hitters: 53 percent of their attacks came from the outside, compared to just 46 percent last season. That worked in Stanford’s favor, as seniors Jordan Burgess and Brittany Howard impressed in both matches this weekend. Burgess hit .385 in the Cardinal’s first two matches, with 24 kills and four errors over 52 attacks combined, while Howard hit .340 (22-6-47) over the two matches.
Two-time Pac-12 Setter of the Year Madi Bugg found her classmates often and distributed the ball well despite the lack of offensive presence at middle blocker that the Cardinal have been known for during Inky Ajanaku’s time. Bugg combined for 54 assists over the weekend’s matches.
Hayley Hodson is for real
The nation’s top recruit, opposite hitter Haley Hodson, looked like a veteran on the court this weekend for the Cardinal. (It’s no surprise considering the experience she has had with the U.S. Senior National Team and as a captain of a gold-medal-winning Junior National Team.) Hodson had 19 kills on 52 attacks combined over the two matches, and her numbers only figure to improve over the course of the season as she and Bugg get more comfortable together on the court. By the way, she also picked up five blocks against Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.
Hodson’s classmate, middle blocker Tami Alade — another of the six total freshmen on the team — filled in for junior Merete Lutz, who was out with a finger injury. While Alade had limited attacking opportunities, she showed her potential on defense, finishing with a match-high six blocks against Minnesota.
Lutz needed back at middle blocker for upcoming matches
It was odd seeing so few attacks coming from Stanford’s middles, as that has become their brand in recent seasons. Going into the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge in State College, Pennsylvania next weekend, the Cardinal will certainly need Lutz back at middle blocker to reclaim some of the balance that has led to so much success in the past.
Lutz is back at practice and hopes to be ready in time for the matches against current No. 8 Illinois and a Final Four rematch against No. 1 Penn State. Last season, the Cardinal upset the defending champion Nittany Lions early in the season to claim the No. 1 overall ranking. The same set-up goes for this year’s early matchup — only this time, the match is in enemy territory.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.