The No. 1 Stanford women’s volleyball team (28-1, Pac-12 20-0) defeated the California Golden Bears (15-16, 7-13) with a sharp and clear 3-0 score in the final game of the regular season, a magical senior night, closing its season with a perfect 20 wins in the Pac-12 conference.
The first set started just like how it would end, in perfect equilibrium, with the two teams trading points without either of them gaining considerable advantage on the other. When Stanford scored two points in a row with a perfect kill and then block by junior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris, Cal reacted and regained the lead with a great defensive performance; when the Cardinal imposed their scheme and way of playing the game with a wonderful and incredibly long action, culminating in a kill by sophomore outside hitter Meghan McClure, Cal immediately came back, tied and then even took the lead of the frame, and so on and so forth.
Neither of the attacks of Berkeley — junior setter Jenna Gray’s aces and junior libero Morgan Hentz’s spectacular digs — proved to be enough for either of the teams to take control of the set until a couple of well-designed and perfectly carried-out actions gained Stanford its first set point with a 24-22 lead. Berkeley then, trying to impose some change onto the frame, asked for their second time-out. At first, this strategy seemed to pay off as Cal scored a point, shortening the Cardinal lead, but Stanford did not waste its second chance, and with a decisive kill by senior middle blocker Courtney Bowen, Stanford took the first set 25-23.
The second set started much better for the Cardinal team: Stanford was immediately able to take a significant two-point lead, preserved with a few fluctuations, until Cal seemed to come back and tie the frame 11-11. Stanford reacted with all its strength and power scoring thanks to an attack error and, most notably, two kills in a row by Gray. A timeout would then prove to be of little use for Cal as the home team continued to lead the game until the Bears tried to come back and tied the game at 17-17 with a serving ace. However, once again, Stanford showed the crowd its huge potential and gained a three-point lead, which later resulted in its first match point at 24-21, achieved with a whole-team contribution, including, once again, great digs by Hentz and crucial kills by Fitzmorris, McClure and junior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer (who had struggled a bit up to that point, with a very unusual negative hitting percentage and maybe too many serving and attacking errors). Stanford immediately transformed this set point into its second set victory of the match, 25-21, never losing the lead of the frame.
The third and last set started somewhat strangely: Stanford gained a two-point lead and appeared capable of keeping it for some time, but instead Cal came back from a Stanford 8-6 lead, completely overturning the result into a Cal 10-8 lead. Then the Cardinal seemed to have difficulty as Cal kept putting pressure on Stanford’s defense, but, once again, the result changed, and Stanford in turn gained a 14-12 lead. The Cardinal started confidently increasing their lead, reaching a 19-15 score, when Cal asked for their first time-out of the set. Nonetheless, Stanford kept pushing, and this energy resulted in a great 23-17 lead, approaching the end of the set. Stanford’s first match point was then a 24-18 score, later transformed into an incredibly solid victory, 25-19.
The Stanford Cardinal finished with an almost perfect regular season, culminating in a No. 1 national ranking. The season was capped with a wonderful victory in this derby against Berkeley. Great performances really stood out in this match, namely McClure and Bowen’s 11 kills, Hentz’s nine and Plummer’s eight digs, and senior middle blocker Tami Alade’s eight blocks (with a team total of 11.5).
This spectacular night, in front of almost 4,000 spectators, was concluded with a touching seniors’ celebration, which, with flowers, music and moving video-messages by fellow players, saw off the four seniors who will leave the team after graduating in 2019: Tami Alade, Payton Chang, Alexis Froistad and Courtney Bowen.
In particular, Alade, looking back on this thrilling season, said, “It is so bittersweet; I think there is no other word to describe it. It has been so exciting playing with this group of girls, the way we work together, the team chemistry, every game has always been a great opportunity to get better, but it is also sad that my season has to come to an end… It has been a truly great opportunity, and even though it can now seem sad, I’m really thankful.”
Looking ahead to the postseason, Alade said, “We all have our objective in mind, which is one game, one prize: the National Championship. And given our experience and the passion we all have for the game, I think we can really do that as long as we enter every game ready and focused”.
Finally, reflecting on her whole journey here at Stanford as part of the women’s volleyball team, Alade said, “I think every season is different, and each one had its particular moments that made it so great and special. It would be easy to say the year we won the National Championship, but I really cherish every season for what they have to offer.”
Having then closed the Pac-12 with a perfect record, Stanford women’s volleyball will now try to maintain this incredible condition in the playoffs and hopefully into the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Contact Didier Natalizi Baldi at didiernb ‘at’ stanford.edu.