By James Hemker
Last weekend, No. 20 Stanford’s beach volleyball season came to a close as the Cardinal (11-18, 3-2 Pac-12) was unable to progress very far in the Pac-12 tournament. The team dropped its opening match to No. 13 Arizona (25-6, 4-1 Pac-12). It rebounded later that evening with a sweep of Oregon (5-11-1, 0-3), but Arizona State (21-14, 2-3 Pac-12) washed all hope away the next day.
Earlier in the year, the Cardinal managed to escape Bear Down Beach with a 3-2 win over then-No. 14 Arizona. This time around, the Wildcats got the better of the Cardinal. Flights four and five were quickly lost in straight sets. The other three flights went the full three sets, but Arizona claimed the third flight to win the duel.
Stanford had little trouble against the Ducks in the two teams’ first meeting, winning 4-1. Juniors Kat Anderson and Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl secured the first Cardinal point in the five slot. Freshmen Maddie Dailey and Jordan McKinney took the fourth flight in straight sets. Junior Morgan Hentz and sophomore Sunny Villapando were able to clinch the duel with a two-set rout in the No. 2 pairing.
The Cardinal returned to action the next afternoon against the Sun Devils, who had not faced Stanford this year. Similar to the duel with the Wildcats, the four and five flights were quickly taken down in straight sets, forcing the Cardinal to try and win three flights in a row. Hentz and Villapando were able to secure their second flight point, but the Sun Devils’ top pairing claimed the duel.
Though Stanford lost the duel, Hentz reached an important milestone with her flight win. She became the first woman in school history to achieve fifty individual wins. Senior Courtney Bowen, who has been injured for a large chunk of the season, sits in second with 49 wins.
After a 17-13 season in 2018, this year comes to a disappointing end. The team struggled throughout the year against ranked teams, with the first win against Arizona being their sole victory throughout 17 matches.
Some of the regression can be accounted for in the drastically different roster. Seven of the players last season were also members of the top-tier women’s volleyball team. This year, just three indoor volleyball players from the 2018 season — senior Courtney Bowen, sophomore Blake Sharp and Hentz — stayed on the beach volleyball roster. It remains to be seen how many girls will continue to play both sports.
This could be a conscious effort by the two teams to build independent programs. The best beach volleyball schools in the nation, such as USC and UCLA, have independent rosters from women’s indoor volleyball that do not rely on the strength of one sport to lift the other.
As head coach Andrew Fuller gets the girls he wants in this new system, expect the Cardinal to improve in coming seasons.