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Beach volleyball prepares for ranked opponents in weekend’s Pac-12 Invitational

No. 17 Stanford seeks revenge in conference matches

Freshman Charlie Ekstrom (above) has cemented herself as a force for the Cardinal in her first season, playing at the one-seeded slot for Stanford. (AL CHANG/isiphotos.com)

This Saturday and Sunday, No. 17 Stanford beach volleyball (8-10, 2-1 Pac-12) will host four teams for the Pac-12 North Beach Volleyball Invitational. The lineup is looking deadly; No. 12 Cal (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12), No. 1 UCLA (23-0, 1-0 Pac-12), No. 2 USC (16-4, 0-0 Pac-12) and Washington (6-6, 1-2 Pac-12) are set to compete over the weekend.

Last time the Cardinal hit the sand was on March 26, when Stanford picked up one win and one loss. The contest against CSUN (9-10, 0-0 Big West) at Zuma Beach was a clean win for the Cardinal with every pairing claiming points with the exception of the No. 4 pair.

The top-placed pair of freshman Charlie Ekstrom and freshman Tori Ashkinos secured their match 2-0, having won sets at 21-19 and 21-18. The game also marked the first match (and the first victory) for the new duo of junior Morgan Hentz and sophomore Sunny Villapando, playing in the two spot. The pair took their first set 22-20 and their second 21-11.

The No. 3 pairing of freshman Maddie Dailey and sophomore Amelia Smith was, as the kids say these days, “easy money.” The two won their sets handily, 21-11, 21-10. Last but not least, the No. 5 combo of junior Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl and junior Kat Anderson triumphed with a 21-18, 22-20 finish.

The money did not come nearly as easy, however, in the following match against No. 5 Pepperdine (16-6, 0-0 WCC), which Stanford lost 1-4. The only Cardinal duo to capture a win was Hentz and Villapando. The junior and sophomore won their first set 21-16, lost their second 19-21 and then persevered in the final set to a 15-9 finish.

The Cardinal have had particular trouble with ranked opponents this season, and it should be expected that the trouble will not end as some of the best teams in the nation settle into Stanford territory.

The Trojans, which the Cardinal will face tomorrow, have suffered two recent losses against UCLA and Pepperdine but recently carried a six-match win streak. The Trojans also demolished the Cardinal at their last contest on March 2 — a 5-0 debacle where only the Cardinal combo of Hentz and Smith were able to take USC to a third set.

The Bruins currently stand undefeated, having whooped second-ranked USC on Feb. 27 and April 3. The more recent match, a 4-1 result, marked only the second loss of the year for the indomitable UCLA combo of Sarah Sponcil and Lily Justine. The team boasts an incomparable cadre of veterans; senior Megan McNamara claimed her 100th career victory on Wednesday. The McNamara sisters won gold at the Women’s FISU World University Championship in Munich back in July, and the two also led the Bruins to their first national title in 2018.

Cal will also pose quite a threat for the Cardinal. Most recently, the Golden Bears defeated San Jose State (10-7) by massive point margins; the No. 2 Mima Mirkovic and Grace Campbell combo won their first set 21-4 and their second 21-14. Cal also defeated Stanford on March 9 in a 3-2 slugfest. Bedlam broke loose after Stanford took their arch nemesis to three third sets, winning the No. 2 and No. 3 pairings but dropping the rest in a series of close-calls. Expect the drama to resurface as the Cardinal seeks revenge. In the words of Cal head coach Meagan Owusu, “Playing Stanford always means more than just a beach volleyball match.”

Finally, the Washington Huskies will be making an appearance. They recently suffered consecutive defeats at the hands of the No. 14 Arizona Sun Devils (13-10, 1-2 Pac-12) and Saturday will mark the first match between the Cardinal and the Huskies this season.

Catch the invitational on Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7, at the Stanford Beach Volleyball Stadium. Saturday’s matches against Washington and USC starts at 11 a.m. PST and 5 p.m. PST, while Sunday’s matches against UCLA and Cal begin at 1 p.m. PST and 5 p.m. PST, respectively.

Contact the Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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