By James Hemker
In what may be the match of the season, No. 2 women’s volleyball (5-1, 0-0 Pac-12) will travel to Lincoln to face No. 1 Nebraska (7-0, 0-0 Big Ten) on Wednesday night. The last time these two teams faced, the Cardinal prevailed in five sets and took home the 2018 NCAA Championship.
For the first time in 37 matches, Stanford comes into the game without a win streak. No. 7 Minnesota surprised the Cardinal last Saturday with a convincing 3-1 win over the defending national champs. Stanford played the whole match just a step behind the Golden Gophers, looking slow and unfocused.
Ultimately, the loss may have been beneficial for the Cardinal, as it exposed weaknesses in the team’s passing and blocking. With three full days of rest and practice, expect Stanford to enter Devaney Center, one of the toughest road sites in college volleyball, with its usual confidence and swagger.
Stanford enters the game led by the arm of senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer. The two-time American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Player of the Year ranks fourth in the nation in kills per set (5.50) and 17th in hitting percentage (.350) among all outside hitters.
Enabling Plummer is senior setter Jenna Gray, whose 11.77 assists per set is tied for fourth-best in the country. After last weekend’s matches, Gray now has the fifth-most career assists (4,350) of any player in Stanford history. She also leads this year’s team with eight aces from the service line.
While Stanford is returning six of its seven starters from last year’s squad, the Huskers no longer have their ace, outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, who graduated last year. One of the best players in Nebraska’s history, Foecke rained fire on the Cardinal in the title game, racking up a match-high 27 kills.
Even without Foecke, Nebraska has a couple big time players who can cause trouble for Stanford. Outside hitter Lexi Sun has stepped up as the go-to attacker, evidenced by her team-leading 101 kills this year, but the Nebraska player to watch will be middle blocker Lauren Stivrens.
Concluding her freshman season last year, Stivrens posted 19 kills in the title match against a better Stanford defense. This year, the Cardinal have already been exposed by quick sets to middles, as Penn State’s star middle Kaitlin Hord owned the net with 16 kills on .516 hitting. Expect Stivrens, a First Team All-American, to try and replicate that performance.
Stanford has never lost two matches in a row under head coach Kevin Hambly. With a veteran lineup, the Cardinal should be able to rally from Saturday’s loss and play a competitive if not dominant game.
First serve is set for Wednesday night in the Delaney Center at 5 p.m. PT.