By James Hemker
No. 3 women’s volleyball (7-3, 1-1 Pac-12) travels to Oregon this weekend, facing the No. 25 Ducks (5-6, 1-1) on Friday and the Beavers (8-5, 2-0) on Saturday. The Oregon State game will end a nine-game streak of ranked opponents for the Cardinal.
Fresh off a loss to No. 8 Washington last Sunday, Stanford is stuck in the worst rut since head coach Kevin Hambly took over the program back in 2017. Over the past two weeks, the team has played five games and lost three of them. You would have to go back to 2016, when the Cardinal lost three of four matches, to find a worse stretch.
No one doubts the raw talent of the roster, as evidenced by the fact that they are the only three-loss team ranked in the top-ten of the AVCA coaches poll. They have even garnered one first-place vote despite the losses. The struggles have come in finding a team whose sum is greater than its parts, as well as dealing with the mental pressures of being touted as one of the best teams in the country.
The last couple of games have seen significant lineup changes as the coaching staff tries to find the magic combination to get the team back on track. The middles have been the biggest area of concern, with the position becoming a revolving door between freshman McKenna Vicini, sophomore Holly Campbell and graduate student Madeleine Gates.
“I would expect some more lineup changes until we can find the lineup that’s working,” said Hambly. “We are searching for the group that’s going to work a little bit right now. We’ve really struggled to get anything out of the middle. We haven’t gotten a lot of points out of them, so we need to find a way to get that going.”
While all of Stanford’s losses have been at the hands of tough teams, ultimately, the Cardinal have been their own worst enemy. The team has been slow to start games, losing the first set in seven of their last eight matches, which immediately forces them into a high-pressure second set.
“I think there’s a lot of wait-and-see [about] how we’re going to respond, and we’re not bringing the fight to the opponent,” said Hambly.
On paper, this weekend will be the easiest pair of matches since Stanford opened its season against two unranked squads. In reality, the lower-ranked, scrappier teams have given the Cardinal the most trouble. The three losses came to teams ranked Nos. 8, 8, and 12, and they were two points away from going down two sets to one against No. 21 Cal.
Despite setbacks from injuries, Oregon has a strong offense that averages nearly 13.5 kills and 1.5 aces per set. The Ducks’ kill-leader is middle Ronika Stone, who is averaging just under 3.5 kills a set on .374 hitting.
Oregon State will challenge Stanford’s offense, as they run one of the best defenses in the conference. Their 15.1 digs-per-set ranks fourth in the Pac-12, and the Beavers post 2.7 blocks-per-set which is good for third. Oregon State’s ability to extend plays and force opponents to swing multiple times a point will force Stanford to adapt.
“Oregon’s a really difficult team to play, they run an incredible offense that’s hard to keep track of,” explained Hambly. “Oregon State grinds out points, and we struggle against that. We are used to playing more of a men’s style and putting balls away. We are going to have to be good in the grind against those guys.”
First serve against Oregon will be set for 7 p.m. PT on Friday, and the Oregon State match is slated for a 6 p.m. PT start time on Saturday.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.