The No. 2-ranked Cardinal women’s volleyball team (16-1, 8-0 Pac-12) had to face the No. 21 Washington State Cougars (13-4, 4-3) on Friday and the No. 18 Washington Huskies (13-5, 5-3) on Saturday, managing to obtain solid victories by consecutive scores of 3-0.
On Friday, Stanford was able to impose its supremacy in the game from the very beginning of the first set, starting off with three serving points in a row. The Cardinal kept the score difference growing from that point with no lead changes or ties in the entire set. The first set ended with a decisive Cardinal victory, 25-15.
The second set was much more difficult to claim, as Stanford went down 8-4, a score difference that, with no significant change, was kept constant until reaching 22-18 in favor of Washington State.
Then, the Cardinal reacted. With a great blocking effort and crucial spikes by the reigning AVCA player of the year, junior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, Stanford was able to bring the score to a 24-24 tie. Washington and Stanford then wasted two set points each, but another impressive spike by Plummer let the Cardinal put themselves in a power position and, with their third chance, were able to achieve victory in the set, 30-28.
Later, junior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris reflected about what happened in the second set: “The second set was tough; they challenged us in a lot of different ways, but I’m proud of how our team battled and put that set off.”
This competitive and agonistic spirit was key in the third set too. After the half-time break, the Cardinal were able to repeat and even improve their first set performance, starting off with four points in a row and achieving a safe and solid lead through the set until a final victory with a score of 25-12.
Head coach Kevin Hambly pointed out that the injury of Washington State’s Taylor Mims (who had already achieved 12 kills in just two sets) shifted the equilibrium of the game in favor of the home team.
Stanford’s statistics at the end of the game really reflect its dominance. Plummer achieved 16 kills with a hitting percentage of .387, the same exact hitting as Fitzmorris, who scored 12 kills. But the Stanford defense was impressive too. Junior libero Morgan Hentz achieved 20 digs through the whole game. Washington State only had a total of 34 digs as a team.
However, two elements that really stand out of these stellar stats are the blocking capacity of the Cardinal and the quality of their service. Fitzmorris, who had six blocks, commented on Stanford results in this area: “With our blocking performance we were able to shut them down in some key moments.”
Plummer described how important the service was for the Cardinal team: “A great serving performance put pressure on them and allowed our defense to work better.”
Hambly commented: “We talked with the team about serving aggressively, putting pressure on them, and they answered. I was also very pleased for the nine serving errors to 10 aces ratio.” Incredible in this sense was the performance of sophomore outside hitter Meghan McClure and sophomore pinch server Sidney Wilson, who reached in that game career-high records of four serving aces.
On Saturday, Stanford’s performance was able to meet expectations and keep the level of high performance the team had the day before, despite having to face a team that created many problems for the Cardinal last season.
The first set started in the best possible way, with the Cardinal achieving a 4-0 lead and increasing it until a 10-point lead at 24-14 and the eventual 25-16 stellar final score for Stanford. This was thanks particularly to a great performance in the service by junior setter Jenna Gray, who scored two points on service aces just in the first set, eventually ending the game with three aces.
At least as noteworthy was the digging performance throughout by Hentz, who, by the end of the game, achieved 14 digs in total and commented, “I think in order to dig really well, it is crucial to read what’s happening beforehand, anticipating the action. Focusing on this is the key to not missing digs. Watching how the set is developing, how the hitter is positioning her arm — all these things really help a lot.”
In the second set, nothing really changed. Stanford was able to drive the game and, most importantly, to react immediately when Washington tried to come back at the middle of the set, scoring five points in a row and reaching a 13-10 score. For from that point on, Stanford safely kept the lead and finally won the set 25-20.
The third set was somewhat more complicated for the Cardinal team, for the score underwent five ties and four lead changes throughout this final part of the match. Stanford started the frame losing two points but, after some traded points, managed to come back on top with a 13-12 lead, imposing on Washington to ask for a time-out. Nothing much different happened after the match restarted and Stanford finally won the third and final set by 25-18.
Coach Hambly described the game as a whole: “It didn’t feel easy at all, we had to fight for points. They are a good team, and they are going to be better next time we’ll have to face them. We executed well tonight, but we’ll have to do better to beat them next time.”
Going in deeper detail on what was missing in the performance of the team, he commented: “We have had too many streaks of errors — we struggled to stop their outside at times. Especially at the beginning of the third set, we lost the focus, but then we turned it around, which is good.”
From a statistical perspective, anyway, Stanford game was definitely noteworthy, with Plummer even improving her impressive performance of the day before and achieving 17 kills, followed by Fitzmorris with 10 kills on 18 attempts.
Apart from the stellar sportive performance of the Stanford women’s volleyball team, great and unique was the atmosphere of Maples Pavilion. The national anthem was sung both nights by little children, and children constituted during all the weekend an important part of the audience.
Fitzmorris commented on this aspect of the game: “It’s always awesome to have so many young supporters. I remember when I was there, watching other volleyball games… And to be able to be a positive role-model, sign autographs, taking photos after the game was a wonderful experience.”
Moreover, Saturday’s match had something particularly special: It was Stanford Pink Night, an annual event dedicated in order to raise money for the Women’s Cancer Center at Stanford University Hospital. Pink t-shirts were gifted to the attendants, and the home team played wearing pink jerseys to honor the cause.
Stanford now has an impressive 16-1 record with an incredible 14-win streak and will play on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at No. 14 Oregon State.
Contact Didier Natalizi Baldi at didiernb ‘at’ stanford.edu.