Stanford women’s volleyball has had an absolutely incredible season in 2018. They went undefeated in the Pac-12, swept their way through their regional bracket, and claimed the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But there was a constant blemish on an otherwise perfect season—their one loss on the year, a five-set defeat to Brigham Young University (BYU). The Cardinal ended the regular season 28-1, nearly undefeated.
On Thursday night, the No. 1-seeded Stanford Cardinal (33-1, 20-0 Pac-12) claimed revenge for that loss in a dominant fashion, sweeping the No. 4 seeded BYU Cougars in the NCAA Final Four semifinals, stamping their ticket to Saturday’s championship.
There was barely a chance for the Cougars to claim this game for themselves, as their offense, previously the top-performing offense in college volleyball, was shut down in all facets by the Stanford defense. BYU ended the night hitting negative overall, -.026 percent as a team. The performance of the night came from senior middle blocker Tami Alade, who was an absolute force at the net, totaling 14 total blocks.
“Blocking has always been one of my favorite parts of volleyball,” Alade commented during the post-game press conference. Alade’s passion could be seen on every play where she was on the court, relentlessly pressuring the BYU hitters.
“What we did defensively against them tonight, we didn’t expect that,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “We thought we could play some pretty good defense, but didn’t expect to hold them to negative.”
Stanford had a total of 17 blocks on the night. Particularly effective during the match was the front row combination of Alade and junior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris, who keyed in on BYU outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry, the Cougars’ top scorer on the year, and one of the top outsides in the country. Fitzmorris ended the game with nine total blocks.
BYU was unable to get anything going offensively. When they snuck past a Cardinal block, they were dug up by the impeccable play of junior libero Morgan Hentz, now officially inaugurated as the mayor of “Hentz-ville.” Hentz had 20 of the Cardinal’s 43 digs on the night, and continued to frustrate BYU beyond the block.
BYU has an outstanding libero of their own, Mary Lake, but Lake wasn’t able to cover the amount of ground that Hentz could, and Stanford threw BYU out of system throughout the match quite frequently. The excellence of the service game from Stanford kept BYU on its back foot constantly.
None of the sets were particularly close beyond the halfway point. BYU would start each of the three sets hot, and then falter and lose momentum to the unstoppable Cardinal. In the third set specifically, the score was tied at 13-13, when a long rally culminated in Stanford’s 15th block of the night by none other than Alade and Fitzmorris. From this point, the momentum shifted entirely to Stanford, letting them end the match by a score of 25-18. The first and second sets both ended 25-15.
Surprisingly, both teams were held to quiet kill totals during the night. Stanford finished with 34 kills, while BYU ended with just five fewer, at 29. Stanford was led by the now two-time AVCA player of the year, junior outside Kathryn Plummer, who knocked down 12, and Fitzmorris, who was unstoppable from the right side, killing 11 balls. Freshman middle blocker Holly Campbell hit efficiently during the night, bringing down four kills on seven swings, and sophomore outside Meghan McClure came up with critical terminations for the team, despite ending the match with just three kills. Alade only had one kill on the night, but her blocking was the most valuable contribution of the entire team.
Junior setter Jenna Gray controlled the offense effectively during the match, benefiting from a great serve and pass game by the entire team. She finished the night with two service aces, 26 assists, three blocks and six digs, an excellent all-around performance.
Gray identified the team’s fundamentals as crucial to their success after the game: “The Final Four sometimes isn’t the prettiest volleyball, but it is who is going to scrap when it comes down to the serve and pass, so we’re going to focus on that and focus on keeping our pace of the game.”
BYU was led offensively by Jones-Perry with eight kills.
The difference in score came from the Cardinal blocks, and an insane number of hitting errors committed by BYU. The Cougars finished the match with 34 hitting errors, five more errors than kills on the night. The Cardinal played smart, only hitting seven errors during the match.
This match was an utter domination; Stanford made the No. 4 team in the country look like its first-round opponents, Alabama State. Nearly every team Stanford played in their regional bracket put up more of a fight than BYU was able to.
This was Stanford’s 22nd semifinal appearance. They will now compete for the national title on Saturday against the Nebraska Huskers, in an attempt to claim the record for all-time championships by a volleyball program, a spot they currently share with Penn State, with seven titles each.
The No. 7 Huskers rallied back from an 0-2 deficit on Thursday night against Illinois, and look to present a difficult challenge for the seemingly unstoppable Cardinal.
Stanford’s last appearance in the title game was in 2016, when the Cardinal upset Texas A&M to claim their seventh national championship. The team was led by Plummer, Grey, Fitzmorris and Hentz, playing as true freshmen. The juniors and seniors on the team will be competing for their second national title.
The game begins at 6 p.m. PST, from the Target Center in Minneapolis, broadcast nationally on ESPN2.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu