By James Hemker
No. 2 women’s volleyball (6-2, 0-0 Pac-12) fell to No. 12 BYU (9-2, 0-0 MPSF) in four sets on Friday afternoon. It took the Cougars seven match points in the 31-29 fourth set to earn their win and break Stanford’s 37-match win streak in Maples.
Strong defense from each team hampered the opposing offenses, as the Cardinal hit just .238 and the Cougars .232. Both teams tallied 62 digs over the course of the four sets, with senior libero Morgan Hentz’s season-high of 27 digs outpacing the rest of the floor by nine. Assisting her were junior outside hitter Meghan McClure (13 digs) and junior defensive specialist Kate Formico (10 digs).
Stanford’s frontline had its best performance of the year, out-blocking the Cougars 17-11. Sophomore middle Holly Campbell lived up to her position and was in the middle of nearly everything, posting a career-best 11 blocks. Senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris and graduate middle Madeleine Gates provided reinforcement with seven and six blocks, respectively. Fitzmorris was the only Cardinal blocker to not record an error, as Stanford racked up seven to BYU’s six.
The final outcome seemed laughable after the first set, which Stanford dominated to the tune of 25-18. Despite starting slow, Fitzmorris and Gates broke the set open at 15-13. Fitzmorris terminated back-to-back kills and followed it up with a block alongside Gates. Three serves later, the duo roofed another BYU shot before Gates unloaded two kills of her own.
Gates turned in nine-kills on .250 hitting, and Fitzmorris finished the night with 10 kills, making it her fourth double-digit kills performance in five matches.
In the first, the Cardinal terminated 18 kills off the arms of six different players as the team hit .400. Three team blocks and 11 digs kept the BYU offense in check. Four attack errors and one bad serve were the only blemishes in the set.
Where most teams would have crumbled, the Cougars held fast in the second frame, and the resistance proved to be too much for Stanford.
“Once we got a lead and took control of the first set, we thought they were going to go away and they didn’t,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “We weren’t prepared for that mentally or emotionally.”
Five team blocks from Stanford kept BYU to hitting just .229, but the Cougars’ defense did an even better job, holding the Cardinal to .152. In a set that ended 25-22, four service errors and two blocking errors by Stanford made a world of a difference.
Freshman outside hitter Kendall Kipp put up 5 kills in the second to try and get the Cardinal going, but the offense never quite found its rhythm. She finished with 10 kills on just .192 hitting, but she is already shaping up to be the future offensive start of the team. The 6-5 Kipp has been subbing in for McClure on the frontline rotation and sits fourth on the squad with 51 kills.
“We played her the whole time to see if we could get her going,” Hambly said. “She struggled a little bit at times, but also at one point she was our hitting efficiency leader. She had 10 kills. We wanted her to do a little bit more at the end, but we can keep working on it.”
BYU took the 2-1 sets lead after winning the third by way of a few inspired runs. The Cougars were able to rattle off three different 4-0 runs, including from 23-21 to win the set. 13 assists from senior setter Jenna Gray allowed Stanford to keep set three competitive in spite of BYU’s streaks.
Gray set 52 balls for kills and added five blocks, four digs and two kills to her stat sheet. This match was the fourth time she has ended with at least 50 assists in the last five games.
Despite having their backs against the wall, the Cardinal came into the set a step behind BYU and immediately fell in a 5-0 hole. Finally, the offense turned to senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, who had quietly tallied 12 kills up to that point. Three kills and a block helped propel Stanford into the lead on a 6-0 run.
Plummer put together a heroic performance in the fourth, slashing 9/2/19 for .368 hitting, but Stanford failed to slow BYU down. In total, Plummer paced the floor with 21 kills on .245 hitting as well as five digs.
The 6-5 lead was short-lived, and BYU amassed a four-point cushion at match point, 24-20. At the end of their rope, Stanford put together a spectacular 5-0 run, which featured two Fitzmorris kills sandwiching a pair of blocks by herself and Gates. A cross-court assist from Plummer to Gates capped the run and handed Stanford set point.
But again, BYU stood strong and a 3-0 run following Stanford’s second set point at 29-28 closed the match.
“They came to compete and we came to play,” Hambly said. “I thought they out-competed us the whole match. We were not scrapping, we weren’t clawing on defense. We tried to turn it on at the very end of each set, but you can’t do that against a team like BYU.”
The Cougars’ attack was led by outside hitter McKenna Miller, who led her team with 18 kills. She also excelled from the service line, cooking up two critical aces in the fourth set. For the first time this season, Stanford was out-gunned from the line, 4 aces to 1.
Early last season, the Cougars took down then-top-ranked Stanford in five sets in Provo. The Cardinal carried that defeat all season and avenged the loss with a 3-0 sweep in the NCAA semifinals. Hopefully, BYU has relit the energy that carried last year’s team clean through the tournament.
“I think this has definitely sparked a fire underneath us, especially since its us losing on our home court,” Gray said. “We have been really good about protecting it, except for today. Going into conference, we are going to have a little more fire pushing us.”
Saturday afternoon marked the end of a grueling six-game stretch against out-of-conference ranked opponents. There will be no time to rest, though, as the team’s first three Pac-12 foes are all currently ranked as well. The conference slate will start on Thursday at No. 24 Cal.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.