By James Hemker
No. 1 women’s volleyball (7-3, 1-1 Pac-12) suffered its third loss in five games on Sunday evening, dropping a 4-set contest to No. 8 Washington (10-2, 1-1 Pac-12). The 17-25, 25-18, 15-25, 16-25 match was Stanford’s worst performance of the year, as the offense hit .111 while the Huskies hummed at a .288 clip.
Following BYU’s upset last weekend, this marked the first time the Cardinal had fallen in consecutive home matches since October of 2016. It also snapped the team’s 26-match Pac-12 win streak. Fittingly, Washington had also served up that loss 28 conference games ago.
“They out-executed us the whole time,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “They beat us from the serve-pass game. We had more aces, but they were in-system more and attacked us really well. They did a good job scoring against us.”
The game, plain and simple, was decided with the serving. The stat sheet would tell you that Stanford actually won the service battle, with six aces to three and seven errors to nine, but the Huskies employed some of the toughest serving the team had seen all year.
Coupled with very poor Stanford passing that led to out-of-system balls, the Cardinal hit below .100 in three of their four sets. The team tallied 28 attack errors which was the fourth-most in a match under head coach Kevin Hambly. Stanford also lost the three other games.
“We’ve seen other really good serving teams but we didn’t handle this well,” said Hambly. “If you can’t pass you can’t really do anything else. We hit ten balls out in the third set and then seven more in the fourth. We just didn’t execute.”
Senior setter Jenna Gray came into the match averaging over 12 assists a set, but she left Maples with just 31 assists to her name, her lowest match total of the year. Gray found success with her patented dump-off, recording five kills on eight attempts.
14 of those balls went the way of senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, but slashing 14/11/45 meant that Plummer hit just .067, her worst outing of the year.
Senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris started the afternoon very strong, carrying the Cardinal offense through the first two sets. Entering the third, Fitzmorris had eight kills with just a single error on .500 hitting. Poor passing and setting could not translate into further success, and she ended the match with 10 kills.
Fitzmorris and graduate middle Madeleine Gates were the only Stanford bigs to find defensive success at the net. Fitzmorris paced the team with six blocks, while Gates had her hand in five more. No one else roofed more than two shots, and the team tallied just 9.5 blocks to Washington’s 16.
“They have some good middles that go at a great pace,” said Fitzmorris. “We were trying to shut down the pins. It can be harder to then come back in and get a good block off against the middles.”
Further complicating Stanford’s net was the fact that sophomore middle Holly Campbell was replaced by freshman Mckenna Vicini at the start of the second frame. Campbell had a very poor first set, hitting -.750, but there was a clear lack of chemistry between Gray and Vicini, who had just two kills.
Another young face sidelined for most of the match was freshman outside hitter Kendall Kipp. Normally taking the front line rotation of junior Meghan McClure, Kipp failed to find traction in the first set, and McClure (five kills, seven digs) was restored to playing all six rotations. In addition to the freshman’s troubles, McClure’s presence meant that Stanford had one more passer at all times.
Without much of a presence at the net, the back line defense was under constant barrage from the Huskies. Washington was led by outside hitter Kara Bajema, who had 17 kills on .302 hitting, 10 digs, five blocks and an ace.
Senior libero Morgan Hentz dug a match-high 22 balls for her sixth-straight 20+ digs game. Plummer, Gray and junior defensive specialist Kate Formico each added eight more digs, but their efforts were not enough to slow Washington.
A repeat of last year’s undefeated conference season will not happen for Stanford, and it just shows how special the accomplishment was last year.
“The Pac-12, especially this year, has really great talent,” said Fitzmorris. “There are a lot of returning players across the board, so teams have a lot of experience, and they can show up and play. “
The Cardinal will look for redemption on the road this weekend in Oregon. The No. 24 Oregon Ducks will host Stanford on Friday, and then they will travel to Corvallis to face Oregon State on Saturday.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.