By James Hemker
No. 2 women’s volleyball (6-1, 0-0 Pac-12) regained the throne after upending No. 1 Nebraska (7-1, 0-0 Big Ten) in four sets on Wednesday night. In front of a record crowd of 8,632 at the Devaney Center, Stanford hit at a .296 clip, which is the highest hitting percentage allowed by Nebraska since November of 2017.
This match may have been the most anticipated of the year due to the history behind it. The last four NCAA championships were split between these two schools, and last season the Cardinal prevailed over the Huskers in a five-set thriller. More recently, Minnesota snapped Stanford’s 37-match win streak, proving that the team is not invincible and giving cause to Nebraska’s claim as top dog.
The Cardinal understood this, and played their best all-around game of the season. The offense overloaded Nebraska, while the front-line and back-line defenses worked together to stifle the opposing attack.
Evidenced by a season-best seven team aces, Stanford’s serving kept Nebraska constantly out of system, allowing easier blocks and digs. The Huskers hit just .150, and the Cardinal matched their season-high 12 team blocks for the third time, while their 63 digs were second-most on the year.
Offensively, senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer was the standout, terminating a match-high 19 kills and pacing the floor with a season-high four service aces. Freshman outside hitter Kendall Kipp and graduate middle Madeleine Gates also hit the double-digit mark with 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
Senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris, who jumpstarted the Cardinal with their first two kills of the game, finished with eight on the night. Sophomore middle Holly Campbell was one of the most efficient attackers, slashing 6/1/13 for .385 hitting.
Three aces, two from Plummer and one from junior defensive specialist Kate Formico, and four blocks early in the first set allowed Stanford to build a comfortable 18-10 lead. Nebraska refused to go away and a 9-3 run pulled them within two points, 21-19. Plummer then blasted three kills in four points and gave the Cardinal the first set.
The second frame was Stanford’s to lose, as they hit .308 with just four attack errors. Unfortunately, they served three balls into the net and found just a single ace for their efforts. The Cardinal also failed to record a block, but hit the net three times. Despite this, the set remained tied at 22-22, until a block error, attack error, and a bad set gave the frame to Nebraska.
The team, especially the defense, returned to form in the third, as five Stanford blocks held Nebraska to hitting -.036. The Huskers tied the set early three times, but failed to ever gain the lead, losing 25-17.
Gates led all players with seven blocks, including a solo block in the third. Both Campbell (five blocks) and Plummer (four blocks) each had three blocks in that pivotal third frame as well.
For the second consecutive match, four different Stanford players recorded double-digit digs. As expected, senior libero Morgan Hentz paced the court with 22 digs, making this her third game in a row to up at least 20 balls. Junior outside hitter Meghan McClure posted a new season-best of 15 digs, and Formico added 11 more.
To go along with her 50 assists, senior setter Jenna Gray dug 11 balls for back-to-back double-double matches.
The final set started close, with Nebraska even seizing a small two-point lead, but the Cardinal shifted into an even higher gear from the third. After a Huskers kill which made it 9-8, Stanford tore off on a 13-3 run, burying any hopes of a fifth-set. The run featured four kills from Plummer, three from Gates, and two more Stanford blocks. Two of Nebraska’s three points came from a Cardinal service error and blocking error.
With the convincing takedown of the top-ranked team in the country, Stanford appears to have righted the ship from last Saturday’s loss. That being said, they are not out of trouble waters yet, as their sixth-straight top-15 matchup comes with No. 12 BYU in Maples on Saturday.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.