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Gaels on deck for beach volleyball

Sophomore Sunny Villapando (above) helped secure the first set against Washington last weekend en route to victory. The women's beach volleyball team now takes on St Marys. (ERIN CHANG/isiphotos.com)

Stanford women’s beach volleyball (9-13, 3-1 Pac-12) heads to No. 19 Saint Mary’s (16-6, 9-2 WCC) tomorrow to exact revenge for two losses earlier in the season. The Cardinal head to Moraga with plenty of bruises, having stumbled through this past weekend’s Pac-12 North Invitational with a 1-3 record.

Playing at their home court this past weekend in the invitational, Stanford prevailed against Washington (6-8, 1-3 Pac-12) 3-2. Junior Morgan Hentz and sophomore Sunny Villapando set the pace for the game by securing the first set of the day with a 21-17 decision, and then wrapping up the second 21-11. Stanford lost the next pairing, but then the duo of junior Shannon Richardson and sophomore Blake Sharp defeated their northern opponents with 21-15 and 21-16 decisions. Going tit-for-tat, the Huskies came right back with a victory in the fourth pairing.

The game all came down to freshman Maddie Dailey and sophomore Amelia Smith, who stumbled at first, but soon began to fan the flames of ferocious revenge. Washington took the first set 26-24 to the chagrin of the Cardinal, but Dailey and Smith came back in the second set with a 22-20 win. A glimmer of hope appeared, and then, thunderstruck with an immaculate 15-6 victory in the tiebreaking set, Dailey and Smith saved the day and clinched the only Stanford win of the invitational.

While the Cardinal were given an opportunity to strike back against the Huskies, the second game of Saturday against No. 2 USC (20-4) was a different story entirely. The first match went to the Trojans with a considerable point margin at 21-16 and 21-15. The second match, on the other hand, was handily won by Stanford’s Hentz and Villapando with 21-19 and 21-13 decisions. Following that brief chance at national fame, the third, fourth, and fifth pairings were lost to make for an overall 4-1 Trojan victory.

Sunday’s competition did not get any better. No. 1 UCLA (26-1, 1-0 Pac-12), which only lost to USC, demolished the Cardinal 4-1 as well. Dailey and Smith were able to clinch a victory out of the reasonable defeat, but could only do so after a tight 15-13 win in the third set. And when Stanford turned to face its villainous bay rival, No. 12 Cal (16-5, 5-1 Pac-12), the gods of the sand turned their backs on the Cardinal. The Golden Bears won three out of five sets, and the Stanford duos of Hentz/Villapando and Richardson/Sharp were the only two able to win matches.

The dejected Cardinal squad faces their next foe tomorrow in a match that may set the tone for the fast-approaching tournament season. On one hand, the Cardinal has salubrious chances of victory considering they are facing No. 19 Saint Mary’s, a team that has lost to Cal 0-5 and 2-3 in the past month.

On the other hand, the Gaels are having an unprecedented season. This time last year, Saint Mary’s was 12-9; this year, the Moraga team is 16-6. Despite being unranked earlier in the season, the Gaels crushed the then-No. 11 Cardinal 5-0 on Feb. 24 at the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Beach Classic after being swept themselves by No. 4 Pepperdine (16-6) 5-0. There were lots of close calls; the Cardinal managed to take Saint Mary’s into three third sets, but the Stanford effort was to no avail.

“We beat Stanford 5-0 and it is always a big deal to beat Stanford in anything,” Gael head coach Rob Browning said. “At this point in the season the thing you would hope for more than anything else is to see improvement from your team throughout the tournament. There’s no question that we achieved that goal.”

Saint Mary’s would go on to achieve a lot more when they defeated the Cardinal a second time on March 10. Every set mattered in the 3-2 victory for the Gaels because every pairing had to be settled with a tiebreaker. The Cardinal duos of freshman Tori Ashkinos and freshman Charlie Ekstrom, and Hentz and Smith were the only pairs to clinch wins.

Since dropping a sandstorm on Stanford with those two wins, Saint Mary’s has kept their engine running, only losing to ranked opponents No. 13 Loyola Marymount (19-8) and No. 12 Cal. Stanford is in for an arduous clash against a tested opponent and tomorrow’s match is the Cardinal’s last chance for revenge this season.

The clash on the court will take place tomorrow, April 11, at 4 p.m. PST in Moraga, California.

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

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