By James Hemker
No. 1 women’s volleyball (4-0, 0-0 Pac-12) continues its grueling out-of-conference schedule with a trip to Pennsylvania this weekend. The Cardinal will take on No. 4 Penn State (5-0, 0-0 Big Ten) on Friday and No. 8 Minnesota (2-2, 0-0 Big Ten) on Saturday. By the end of the weekend, Stanford will have faced top-10 teams in four consecutive matches.
Last Saturday, the Cardinal proved their mental fortitude and technical proficiency against No. 3 Texas, defeating the Longhorns in a five-set thriller. Backed by outside hitter Kathryn Plummer’s 34 kills, a career-best for the senior, the team was able to stave off an upset in the back-and-forth 17-25, 25-18, 25-11, 21-25, 15-12 match.
A good sign for the future, freshman outside hitter Kendall Kipp (11 kills on .437 hitting) and sophomore middle Holly Campbell (eight kills on .889 hitting) were Stanford’s second and third largest offensive threats against Texas.
Throughout the match, the commentators made multiple allusions to the similarities, both physically and technically, between the 6-5 Kipp and the 6-6 Plummer. They also noted Campbell’s marked improvement over the offseason, a direct product of playing against the new graduate transfer, All-American middle Madeleine Gates, in practice every day.
While three straight kills secured the win over Texas in the fifth set, it was Stanford’s defense that kept the Cardinal in the game for so long. Senior libero Morgan Hentz paced the floor with 16 digs, while juniors Kate Formico, a defensive specialist, and Meghan McClure, an outside hitter, contributed 12 and 13 digs, respectively. Each of those numbers were season highs for the players.
All of these factors will have to combine to allow Stanford to preserve its nation-leading, 36-match win streak.
The Cardinal will be Penn State’s first challenge of the year, as the Nittany Lions have yet to face an opponent ranked in the top 25. Still, Penn State’s five consecutive 3-0 sweeps should not be disregarded. Headed by Russ Rose, the most decorated Division I women’s volleyball coach, the Nittany Lions are perennial contenders for the title, never having posted less than 22 wins in a year. Their seven program national championships are surpassed only by Stanford’s eight.
On the other hand, Minnesota has already encountered stiff competition. The Golden Gophers were swept by both No. 25 Florida State and Texas in their second and third matches of the season. They managed to recover last weekend and beat No. 11 Florida 3-0 without issue. Before playing Stanford on Saturday, Minnesota will face off against No. 10 Oregon (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12), which is just getting its season started.
Historically, the Cardinal have fared much better against Minnesota than Penn State. In nine meetings, the Golden Gophers have failed to produce a win or even force a five-set match. Penn State is a very different story, as they are one of just four schools who has a winning record (12-11) against Stanford. The Cardinal tightened the score last year, winning twice at home against the Nittany Lions, including in the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Both of Stanford’s games will be played in Penn State’s Rec Hall. Friday’s game against the host Nittany Lions is slated for 6 p.m. PT, while first serve on Saturday is set for 2:30 p.m. PT.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.