After dropping the first set, No. 2 Stanford women’s volleyball (3-0) fought back and won the following three sets to beat No. 6 Illinois (3-1) 16-25, 27-25, 25-18, 25-21 Friday in State College.
The matchup is the first of the Cardinal’s four-game road trip, which continues on Saturday when the team takes on rival No. 1 Penn State, whom Stanford lost to in the Final Four last season.
After missing last weekend’s games due to a finger injury, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merete Lutz hit a .531, collected a career-high 19 kills and notched five blocks in her first action of 2015.
Lutz’s play for the rest of the season will be particularly important for the Cardinal, who will have to compete without middle blocker and National Player of the Year Inky Ajanaku.
The loss of Ajanaku has forced other players, particularly freshman outside hitter Hayley Hodson, to step up so far this season. After a strong performance last weekend, Hodson came through for the Cardinal yet again against Illinois, earning her second double-double of her career (and in three games) off of 13 kills and 11 digs, as well as 5 blocks.
Senior outside hitter Jordan Burgess continued her sharp play from opening weekend against Illinois, ending the game with 12 kills, while senior setter Madi Bugg’s 49 assists and 14 digs also helped the Cardinal get back on track offensively.
Prior to the game, Illinois, the first ranked team Stanford faced this season, boasted a 3-0 record, a top-10 ranking and the No. 1 freshman class in the country.
“They’re super outside dominant,” said Burgess before the matchup. “They have big hitters who swing high at the block, so we’ve been focusing on putting up a really good block up and also getting ready for some long rallies, because they’re really great defensively and we would like to match that and do even better.”
The Cardinal started off slow in the first set, twice facing seven-point deficits and hitting only a .138 compared to Illinois’s .448. Stanford’s 10 errors also allowed Illinois to rack up points and get away with the first-set win, the only set the team has lost this season.
In the second set, Illinois kept the score within a few points, but Stanford, who hit its best attacking percentage of the day, a .390, turned a 24-24 tie into a 27-25 win with a service ace from Bugg, two kills from Hodson and Brittany Howard and defensive block to end the set.
In the third set, the Illini held a 16-13 lead over the Cardinal at one point, threatening to take a 2-1 set advantage. Nine-straight points from Stanford got the team far enough ahead that it only took a few more points for the team (including an attack error by Illinois and two kills by Lutz) to win the third set.
Stanford led by as much as four in the final set, but Illinois fought back to go up 20-18. A combination of tough defense and sharp offense, featuring another set of kills from Lutz, led to a 7-1 Cardinal run that ended the game and maintained Stanford’s perfect record.
In a battle of No. 1 versus No. 2, the Cardinal seek revenge from last season’s Final Four when they play Penn State on Saturday, September 4, at 5 p.m.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.