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Volleyball bounces back with two wins in Oregon

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No. 3 Stanford women’s volleyball (9-3, 3-1 Pac-12) finally broke out the broom closet after over a month without a sweep, as the Cardinal took down Oregon State (8-7, 2-2 Pac-12) 3-0 in Corvallis.

Stanford played without senior outside hitter and two-time National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer for the second straight game, but the Cardinal managed to win six straight sets without their offensive star, including a 3-1 victory at No. 25 Oregon on Friday night. Plummer was out for an undisclosed reason.

“We’re playing good volleyball,” Hambly said about his team’s performance minus Plummer. “The players that are out there are making good shots and making good plays, and they know that Kathryn’s not coming back right now, so they’ve got to figure out how to win a match. I think it’s really good for our team.”  

Hambly emphasized that he would rather have Plummer back on the court, but in her absence senior opposite Audrianna Fitzmorris had two of the best games of her career. Fitzmorris finished with 12 kills on .333 hitting to lead her team against the Beavers. Overall on the weekend, Fitzmorris contributed 28 kills with a remarkable .421 hitting efficiency.

Stanford obliterated Oregon State in the first set, winning 25-12 while holding Oregon State to .000 hitting. Junior outside hitter Meghan McClure put down six of her ten total kills in the first set to pace a dominant offensive performance that saw the Cardinal finish with 16 kills on .500 hitting.

The Cardinal cooled off after that red-hot start. The second set was much more competitive, but Stanford prevailed 25-21 to take a 2-0 lead in the match. Freshman outside hitter Kendall Kipp got going in the second set with five quick kills. She followed up her career-high performance against Oregon with another solid showing against the Beavers, tying Fitzmorris for the team high with 12 kills.

Although Stanford was completely in control of the match after the first two sets, the Cardinal desperately wanted to close out Oregon State in the third. Stanford had not collected a sweep since a 3-0 road win over No. 7 Florida way back on Sept. 4. In that stretch, the Cardinal lost three of five games to No. 8 Minnesota, No. 12 BYU and No. 9 Washington.

The Beavers did not make it easy, but Stanford came away with a dramatic 27-25 victory in the third set to complete a bounce-back 2-0 Pac-12 road trip that puts the Cardinal at second in the conference standings.

“It was nice to get a sweep,” Hambly said after the match. “It’s been a while since we had a sweep. But more importantly, we got in some tight sets and made some plays when it mattered. I thought it was a good match for us.”

The third set became a back-and-forth defensive struggle where both teams hit under .200. Stanford trailed 22-20 and looked destined for another four-set match, but the Cardinal closed fast with a clutch 7-3 run, capped by a game-winning kill from Fitzmorris. Oregon State is a scrappy team who won their first two Pac-12 games thanks to strong defense, yet the Cardinal were able to match their hustle and grittiness to pick up the win.

Senior libero Morgan Hentz controlled the action in the back row for Stanford with 21 digs for the match, including a few spectacular diving saves to preserve long rallies. Hentz looks well on her way to a third straight Pac-12 Libero of the Year and First Team All-American season.

“She’s Morgan,” Hambly commented on Hentz’s fantastic game. “She does it all the time. She’s a great defensive player.”

Hentz received some much-appreciated help from the Stanford block against Oregon State. The block has been quiet at times this season, but it showed up in a big way on Saturday night. The Cardinal finished with 12 total blocks, one of their highest per-set performances of the season. Graduate middle blocker Madeline Gates had a hand in seven of those blocks. The UCLA transfer added nine kills on 20 errorless swings to complete perhaps her best game in a Cardinal uniform.

“We’re starting to figure out how to use her best,” Hambly said of Gates’ breakout. “She’s figuring out how to score and getting more comfortable with [senior setter] Jenna [Gray].”

Gray played a huge role in the offensive and defensive dominance for Stanford. She guided the Cardinal offense to a .275 hitting performance with 38 assists, and the two-time Pac-12 Setter of the Year added 10 digs and five blocks as well. Her all-around excellence and steady senior leadership stabilized Stanford in a scary road spot without Plummer.

Amy Underdown led Oregon State with 10 kills, and middle blocker Kory Cheshire added eight kills and five blocks. The Beavers were held to .117 hitting on the night, however, and they allowed Stanford to side-out at nearly 73%. Oregon State’s passers struggled with the tough serving from the Cardinal. Stanford finished with just one ace, but they consistently kept the Beavers out of system with their service pressure.

The win put Stanford at 69-0 all time against Oregon State. Now, the Cardinal will return to the Farm for a four-game homestand, starting with Arizona this Friday night.

Plummer’s absence is obviously the main concern for Stanford. The Cardinal made up for her with two of their most balanced offensive performances of the season against Oregon and Oregon State. Fitzmorris, Kipp and McClure each collected double-digit kills in both victories, and senior defensive specialist Caitlin Keefe filled in admirably for Plummer in the Stanford lineup with 20 total digs on the weekend in her first significant playing time of the season.

“If we can figure out ways to win and if players can figure out ways to score and not have to rely on Kathryn to carry a big load, that’s great for us,” Hambly added.

Hambly looked more fired up on the sideline in the weekend’s two victories than he has all season. The third-year Stanford head coach knew how important it was for his team to pick up two Pac-12 road wins after their first conference loss in 26 games against Washington last Sunday.

The Cardinal are fighting for their third straight Pac-12 Championship and second straight NCAA title this season. Their three surprising losses in the past five games coming into this weekend showed they were feeling the pressure of those defending championships. But Friday’s 3-1 road win over Oregon and Saturday’s 3-0 sweep over Oregon State in Corvallis were two big steps in the right direction for Stanford in their quest for another historic season.

Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.