By James Hemker
Cal Poly entered Maples Pavilion on Saturday with all its momentum from a reverse sweep against Georgia the night before. The team’s star pin hitter opposite Torrey Van Winden had missed the entire regular season but returned to lead the Mustangs in the five-set win. On top of that, Cal Poly entered as one of the most aggressive service teams in the NCAA, ranking fifth in aces nationally.
And all of that was for naught.
Stanford had one of its best offensive outings of the season, sweeping the Mustangs in three sets to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth consecutive year. Five of six Cardinal attackers hit .300 or better, and the passers did not concede an ace.
The senior pin hitters — outside Kathryn Plummer and opposite Audriana Fitzmorris — took control of the match early and never let go, combining for 30 of 48 kills. In the first, the duo could do no wrong, combining for 11 kills on 16 errorless swings. Plummer would end with a match-high 17 kills on back-to-back nights. Fitzmorris hit over .400 (.440) for the third time in five games and terminated 13 kills with just two errors.
Thanks to the near-perfect passing, senior setter Jenna Gray was able to make use of the middles often, and they made the most of the opportunities. Graduate transfer Madeleine Gates turned in her best match in almost two months, converting 11 errorless swings into seven kills. Sophomore Holly Campbell turned in four more with just a single error and also paced the floor with six blocks.
“I think Jenna put up a lot of great sets,” Fitzmorris said. “There were a lot of opportunities to spread out the offense. Jenna dumped a few times which opened up other spots on the court, and our middles were able to get up and score a lot of crucial points.”
Leading this machine of an offense to hit at a .396 clip was Gray and her 32 assists. Gray also came away from the match with five kills to her name, ranging from dump-offs to jousts to chaotic flicks into the far corner of the court.
In addition to the senior field general, five other Cardinal players tallied assists. While the score and stats suggest a rout, the match was not easily earned. Many long points ultimately went Stanford’s way due to the team’s ability to adapt to out-of-system balls and quell the chaos.
“One of the things we work a lot on is communication and creating space,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “There were some plays where we were scrambling and we were able to create some big swings,”
Coming up big during the scrambles was senior libero Morgan Hentz. In addition to three assists, she upped a match-high 14 balls. Plummer turned in her second double-double of the season with 10 digs.
The Mustangs were lead by outside Maia Dvoracek who claimed 15 kills on .222 hitting and middle Madilyn Mercer who racked up 9 kills at a .500 clip. Outside of these two players, the Cal Poly offense was non-existent. Van Winden was held in the negatives with just two kills despite taking 21 swings, and the team hit just .152 through three sets.
Dvoracek entered with 64 aces on the year, the sixth most in the nation. Using a men’s-style jump serve, she had terrorized Cal Poly’s opponents all season, but the Cardinal back row never flinched, taking away what may have been the Mustangs’ best shot at an upset. Stanford sided-out at an 83% rate, including an almost-perfect 13-of-14 in the first set. The Mustangs were held to a 52% clip.
“We prepared really well in practice,” Plummer said of Stanford’s passing. “I think we have some of the toughest servers in the country so we are going up against that every day in practice.”
The Cardinal will have until Friday to prepare for their Sweet Sixteen date with an all-too familiar foe: Utah. The Utes earned a chance to play Stanford for the third time this year after blowing out their in-state arch-nemesis BYU in front of the Cougars’ home crowd.
Last time Utah was in Maples, they squandered multiple match points before Stanford took the 17-15 win in the fifth set. But that was without Plummer, and when the Cardinal made the visit over Thanksgiving, a 3-1 victory ensued without as much issue.
“It will be really exciting to play them again,” Fitzmorris said. “They’re a really great team and they’ll bring us a good fight. I think we are going to be able to prepare really well this upcoming week.”
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.