The No. 2 ranked Stanford women’s volleyball team (22-1, 14-0 Pac-12) has won 20 straight games. The team played two matches at home this past weekend to reach that point, taking down Colorado (14-11, 6-8) on Friday and Utah (13-12, 5-9) on Sunday to notch wins number 19 and 20 in the streak.
The last time this team lost a match, the Stanford academic school year had not yet begun. They squared off against the current No. 1 ranked team, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and fell in a 3-2 decision. If they had won that game, people might be talking about this team as a legitimate contender to close out the year undefeated, claiming a spot as one of the top Stanford volleyball teams of all time. As it stands, that conversation should be going on regardless.
This team doesn’t seem as unrelentingly dominant as they did at this time last year during their rampage through the Pac-12. On paper, their stats are even better, their record is even stronger and their roster is more solid and well-rounded, but there isn’t a sense that they’re grinding their opponents into the ground. They’re just concentrated on having fun, playing well as a team and competing on every point. It may lead to more mistakes than they made in the past, but it has also led to a more relaxed team atmosphere and a more complete team.
A perfect example of this phenomenon was the Cardinal match against the Buffaloes on Friday. What should have been on paper an easy 3-0 sweep turned into an intense, edge of your seat 3-2 finish — ending in a fun, exciting fifth set. Colorado is a bottom of the barrel team, but they still took the Cardinal starting eight the distance, something that never would have happened last year. However, while Stanford made quite a few errors in their gameplay, they stayed in control throughout every set, and there was never a doubt that they would come out with the victory in hand.
Stanford jumped out quickly to a 2-0 lead in the match, and most people in the stands believed this would be another 3-0 sweep. But Colorado came out of the break firing, and played the Cardinal tougher than they were expecting. They kept the third set close all the way until it was tied 20-20 after one error and one kill by junior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer.
The two teams battled back and forth, bringing the score all the way up to 27-27, before Plummer was blocked by the Buffaloes, giving Colorado set point. A great dig set up a finishing termination for Colorado outside Justine Spann, who finished the night with a match-high 24 kills on .307 hitting, notching even more terminations than Plummer, who ended with 23. And it is no easy feat to out-kill Kathryn Plummer.
The story of the fourth set was largely the same, the match stayed close, became tied at 20-20, and then went into an extended deuce, with both teams trading serves. Plummer continued to contribute hitting errors, amassing 10 through the match, more than a third of the team’s 27 total miscues. The set ended with Colorado defenders keying in on Plummer and trapping her in a well-designed block for the 29th point.
Stanford effectively shrugged off the effects of the previous two sets, and obliterated Colorado in the fifth, not even giving them a chance to take the 15-point tiebreaker. They won 15-9.
This resurgence, and the overall Cardinal effort as a whole, was led by the transcendental play of senior middle blocker Tami Alade, who has truly found her groove as a defender in the Cardinal rotation. Alade accumulated a total of 15 blocks during the match, 14 assisted and one solo. This total was the most of her career, and the most by a Stanford player ever in the rally scoring era (2001-present). In school history, the performance ties the record for the second most blocks ever.
Alade’s improvement this season is a combination of things; an improved defensive scheme orchestrated by head coach Kevin Hambly, personal improvement and dedication to her own development and the ability to play next to junior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris, an ex-middle blocker who brings an incredible amount of blocking technique to the right side. Fitzmorris herself had seven blocks on the night, contributing heavily to the Cardinal total of 21.
This is a prime example of how a Stanford volleyball match can look close, but feel so dominant. Despite being tied 2-2 at one point, the team was never in any true danger of dropping the match. The players stayed cool and collected on the court, and despite any offensive shortcomings felt by the team in any one moment, they were always ready to attack again. Retaining this philosophy game-in, game-out allows for performances such as what we saw from the Cardinal on Sunday against Utah. The Utes were completely outmatched, and were blown out by a score of 3-0 in a game that featured Hambly putting in a rotation of his bench players.
Freshman outside hitter Mackenzie Fidelak saw her first action since Sept. 1 against West Virginia during the Utah game, and she made the most of it. Fidelak knocked home the final kill of the game on match point, ricocheting the hit off the Utes’ block and ending the game in favor of the Cardinal.
The usual suspects for Stanford still had their share of playing time, and made the most of it as usual. Plummer hit 13 kills on .346 hitting, and added three service aces to her performance, along with five digs. Fitzmorris had the second most kills on the team, putting down eight kills on .375 hitting, alongside three blocks.
Junior libero Morgan Hentz was as brilliant as usual during the match, maintaining the Cardinal defense with 13 total digs on the night. Hentz now has double digit digs in every single match the Cardinal have played this year.
Stanford looks to close out its Pac-12 conference title in the near future, as they remain undefeated in conference play. They will take on No. 16 Oregon this Thursday at 8 p.m. before battling Oregon State on Friday at 7 p.m.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu