After going down 0-2 to No. 3 Wisconsin (28-5) to start Saturday’s regional final matchup, sixth-seeded Stanford women’s volleyball (25-7) rallied to win three straight sets and advance to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, with a final score line of 18-25, 24-26, 25-21, 25-21, 15-9. The Cardinal will face off against No. 2-seed Minnesota (29-4) on Thursday in the Final Four.
Stanford’s impressive comeback was spearheaded by a record performance from middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, who became just the fourth woman in Stanford history to break the 600-career block barrier with her first block of the night. Ajanaku dovetailed her career-high 11 blocks with a season-high 20 kills for the second double-double of her career. However, the fifth-year senior’s influence on the game extended beyond her performance on the court. Stanford is a young team, and Ajanaku’s veteran presence has been key as many players are seeing their first postseason play.
“After the second set, we went back into the third, and I looked in everybody’s eyes and I saw they were ready — they were ready to be there all night and they were ready to fight,” Ajanaku said. “And that’s just having confidence in yourselves, and I think our freshmen are finally getting that, and they are recognizing how good we all know that they are.”
Three freshmen set career highs in the match: libero Morgan Hentz with 30 digs, setter Jenna Gray with six blocks and 57 assists and middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris with seven digs. Freshman outside hitter Kathryn Plummer also made major contributions, recording her team-leading 10th double-double of the season on 12 kills and 10 digs.
The Badgers took control of the first set early, although Stanford remained close at their heels before falling 25-18. The second set was even closer, with the Cardinal leading 15-11 before Wisconsin took the next six straight points to regain the lead. The score was tied three more times before the Badgers claimed the 26-24 win.
After losing the first two sets for just the second time this season (the first was in a loss to Arizona), Stanford mounted a comeback, edging Wisconsin 25-21 in the next two sets to force a decisive fifth set. The Cardinal took control early in the fifth, claiming four of the first five points. While the Badgers were able to pull within two, Stanford maintained its lead on the way to a 15-9 set victory and the NCAA semifinals.
Up next, Stanford will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to take on Minnesota in the semifinal matchup on Thursday. The Gophers are coming off a sweep of UCLA and have not lost a match since Oct. 23 against Nebraska, so it is sure to be a tough matchup. First serve is at 4 p.m. and the match will be broadcasted on ESPN2.
Contact Olivia Hummer at ohummer ‘at’ stanford.edu.