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Volleyball gears up for first ranked match of the year

Meghan McClure (center) and Morgan Hentz (right) are two of the key pieces in Stanford's nearly impenetrable defense. Opponents have hit just .133 against the Cardinal this year. (JOHN P. LOZANO/isiphotos.com)

No. 1 women’s volleyball (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) confronts its first real test of the year in a visit to No. 7 Florida (2-0, 0-0 SEC) on Wednesday. Holding a 34-game win streak, Stanford is coming off of back-to-back sweeps over the College of Charleston and Duke University.

The Cardinal will need to be keyed in for this first ranked match of the year so as to prevent a repeat of last season. Stanford had entered 2018 as the top-ranked team, and after two easy wins, dropped its only match of the year to then-No. 9 BYU. However, if there was a team to avoid last year’s pitfalls, this is the group of women to do so.

Forgiving the small sample size, this year’s team is already outpacing last season’s national championship team in nearly all statistical categories on both sides of the net. The team has 20 more kills, 12 fewer hitting errors, 13 more assists and 31 extra digs. This could be chalked up to easier opponents, but there is a real chance that Stanford is simply stronger than ever. 

The team lost one starting senior over the offseason, and to fill that hole head coach Kevin Hambly assembled the best recruiting class of 2019. All five freshmen were rated in the top 50 by VolleyballMag.com, including three in the top five. Additionally, graduate-transfer middle Madeleine Gates makes it six All-Americans on the roster.

Still, the Florida matchup will not be a game to take lightly. The Gators have earned a top-10 ranking with a convincing 3-0 win over No. 25 Louisville and a gritty victory over Dayton. Against the Flyers, Florida fell behind 2-0, but they were able to rally and complete the reverse-sweep, winning the final three sets.

The Gators are led by outside hitter Thayer Hall, who earned All-America honorable mention honors after her freshman campaign last year. The 6-3 sophomore has more terminated more than a third of the team’s kills, and she recorded a double-double in each of Florida’s first two games.

Senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer leads the Cardinal attack with a team-high 28 kills. Gates and senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris sit below Plummer with 16 and 15 kills, respectively. The two are neck-and-neck in blocks as well, with Gates’ nine edging Fitzmorris’ eight.

Defensively, senior libero Morgan Hentz leads the team, as expected, with 30 digs. Together with junior outside hitter Meghan McClure (18 digs) and junior defensive specialist Kate Formico (15 digs), Hentz and the Cardinal have suppressed opponents to hitting just .133.

Catch the Cardinal in Gainesville on the SEC network, with first serve set for 5 p.m. PT.

This article has been updated to correctly reflect Florida’s conference. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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