By James Hemker
Fifth-ranked women’s volleyball (15-4, 9-2 Pac-12) punctuated their sweep of Oregon State (9-13, 3-8 Pac-12) with a 25-9 third-set victory on Friday night. The Cardinal entered the match with their two top left pins — senior Kathryn Plummer and freshman Kendall Kipp — sidelined, but freshman outside hitter Natalie Berty rocked the Beavers with eight kills on ten errorless swings in her first-ever court appearance.
Tasked with finding the hot hand in another new lineup, senior setter Jenna Gray relied heavily on her veteran attackers before Berty entered in the second frame. Junior outside hitter Meghan McClure paced the floor with 11 kills and just a single error, while senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris slashed 9/1/16 to hit .500 on the night.
Led by Gray’s 32 assists, this attacking triumvirate carried the team to a .367 hitting efficiency, which stands a full 100 points higher than the last matchup with Oregon State a month ago.
Berty entered the match for senior outside hitter Michaela Keefe after the opposition pieced together an 8-1 run that handed them the lead at 13-11. Gray immediately called her number, and Berty responded with a rocketing cross-court kill.
“I honestly didn’t think she would come to me, since I was like the new person on the court,” Berty said. “But she did and it ended up great.”
The substitution took the normally stout Beavers defense by surprise, and they were unable to recover. The 6-3 Corona del Mar, CA, native returned in the final set and drilled four more kills in five points.
“It was just a lot of fun actually being in a match,” Berty said. “Everyone on this team is amazing, so it was just great to play with them.”
“I told her that she would be our second option before the match, but I really don’t think she believed me,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “It was a great match for her.”
Oregon State stayed competitive in the first two sets by way of its defense, which is notorious for digging balls and extending points. For a team like Stanford that prides itself on putting the ball away at the first opportunity, the grind can quickly become an emotional burden. The key is to not blindly attack, assuming harder hits will mean more points.
“Everytime we face them they bring great defensive pursuit,” Fitzmorris said. “On our side we see that some of our hits aren’t going down, and instead of trying to attack harder we need to stay patient with hitting.”
Having played the Beavers once this year already, the Cardinal came prepared, and senior libero Morgan Hentz and the defense outplayed Oregon State at its own game. At the end of the night, Stanford out-dug their opponent 45-34, as Hentz paced all players with 21 digs. Junior defensive specialist Kate Formico contributed 10 more to the total.
“Our defense definitely matched [Oregon State’s] defensive mentality today,” Fitzmorris said. “We had different players all over the back row running things down for us.”
In addition to the defense, tough Stanford serving allowed Berty and the offense to flourish, especially in the third set. With Hentz and Gray each serving three gems, the Beavers were aced eight times over the course of the match.
Gray collected two of hers in the third during an immense 9-0 run that erased any possible thoughts of a comeback. The Beavers committed four errors during the span, and anything they managed to pass came back to the Cardinal as easy free balls. Stanford hit .469 in the third, while the Beavers were held to .094. On the night, Oregon State hit for just .140.
“Jenna served great. It got them out of system and they struggled to pass,” Hambly said. “Then we also played really good defense, but it was mostly about Jenna’s serve
As if the run wasn’t enough, Fitzmorris caught tape with her serve at match point to tally the eighth ace, putting the exclamation point on a sentence written long ago.
With the team unsure of return timelines for both Plummer and Kipp, Berty can be expected to see significant playing time at the left pin.
The first opportunity for fans to see her again will be on Sunday at 2 p.m. PT against the Oregon Ducks.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.