No. 9 Stanford women’s volleyball (22-7, 15-5 Pac-12) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, sweeping Denver (23-8, 13-3 Summit League) 25-12, 25-22, 25-20. The team will take on Boise State (26-6, 16-2 Mountain West) in the second round later tonight.
Entering the tournament as the sixth overall seed, Stanford improved to 36-0 all-time in NCAA first-round matches behind fifth-year senior Inky Ajanaku’s 12 kills on .526 hitting and reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Kathryn Plummer’s team-leading ninth double-double of the season. Senior outside hitter Ivana Vanjak added 11 kills, while a trio of Plummer, freshman libero Morgan Hentz and freshman setter Jenna Gray each recorded 11 digs.
The straight-set victory was deceptively close against a Denver team that brought a different style of volleyball than what the Cardinal were used to. Stanford’s young team, which included four freshman starters, struggled to find rhythm early in the match but gained confidence throughout to claim the win.
“For a lot of people on the court tonight, it was their first time playing in the tournament, and I’m actually really proud of how they reacted,” said Ajanaku.
The teams were evenly matched to start the first set, trading points to reach an 8-8 tie. Stanford pulled ahead off strong serving by sophomore defensive specialist Halland McKenna and didn’t surrender the lead, finishing with an 11-1 run to end the set. The Cardinal took advantage of eight Denver errors while holding the Pioneers to a .057 hitting percentage. Stanford looked sharp, hitting .423 as a team.
Denver came out strong in the second and built up a 4-0 lead. High effort from both teams and several long rallies kept the teams neck and neck, with Denver recording crucial digs to keep rallies going despite Stanford’s attempts. Tied at 17-all, the Cardinal gained momentum to claim the set, battling through five set points that ended with a powerful kill from Ajanaku.
“We lean a lot on Inky,” said head coach John Dunning, “She’s a very natural leader and she’s really stepped up and taken a bigger role, and I think that really motivates our team.”
The third set remained close and included nine ties and five lead changes. After slipping to .250 hitting in the second, the Cardinal regained control, reaching an impressive .452 mark as a team. As in the previous set, the teams swapped points to a 17-17 tie before Stanford pulled ahead, going on a 8-3 run to take the first-round matchup.
Stanford’s second-round match against Boise State will be another home game tonight at 7 p.m. The Broncos extended their 15-game winning streak, as they kicked off their first NCAA Tournament appearance with a sweep of Western Kentucky in Friday’s other first-round contest. Saturday’s game will be the first meeting between Stanford and Boise State in program history.
On heading into a tough second-round matchup, Ajanaku seemed optimistic, “I think if we can work well as a team together and bring our best game each night then we’ll be in good shape.”
Contact Laura Anderson at lauraand ‘at’ stanford.edu.