By James Hemker
For the first time in 10 years, No. 15 women’s volleyball lost to rival Cal, with the Golden Bears emerging victorious from a tense, five-set match in Haas Pavilion. Still without upperclassmen due to COVID-19 protocols, the Cardinal roster was unable to keep pace in critical moments, evidenced by the fact that they outscored the opposition 106-105, but ultimately could not come out on top in the 25-18, 23-25, 21-25, 25-22, 12-15 loss.
Stanford (0-3, 0-3 Pac-12) and Cal (1-6, 1-6 Pac-12), both young teams, struggled to produce an efficient offense all night. Stanford’s front line kept the Golden Bear hitters in check while the Cal servers hamstrung the Cardinal offense. Hitting .192 as a team, Stanford is still looking for its first .200-plus night of the season.
The Cardinal’s eight-player roster has made strides just a week into its season, as evidenced by its dominant opening set. After some back-and-forth in the first few points, the Cardinal settled in and found a groove, ripping off a 14-4 run. The flurry of points — an ace, three blocks and ten kills — were a testament to Stanford’s complete grasp of the frame. The set ended with Stanford hitting .310 and the Golden Bears at .037.
However, the result was to be short-lived as California’s tough serving wrought havoc for the Stanford passers, who were aced 12 times over the five sets. Constantly out-of-system due to poor passing, the offense rested with the pins for the majority of the match. Sophomore opposite Kendall Kipp and redshirt freshman outside Caitie Baird took over half of the team’s swings. Baird paced the floor with 16 kills at an efficient .289 clip, and Kipp terminated 15 balls while accumulating nine errors.
After a strong open to the second set, the Cardinal let Cal back in with a 6-0 run that featured three aces. Stanford then failed to close out its 23-22 lead, tying the match at one set apiece. Now with the momentum, the Golden Bears jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the third, but the Cardinal were able to chip away and knot the game at 20-20. The effort fell short, with Cal ripping a 5-1 run to secure the set.
Stanford regained its passing in the fourth set, and sophomore setter Selina Xu was able to better utilize her middles. She connected with middle blockers sophomore McKenna Vicini (9 kills) and freshman Annabelle Smith (7 kills) on the slide again and again, picking apart the Golden Bears. Xu turned in 45 assists and other team members totaled another 10 assists, signifying the transition chaos.
Outside of middle blocker Bella Bergmark, who slashed 10/0/17, the Golden Bears struggled to get a flowing offense even more than Stanford. The Cardinal front line loomed large, rejecting 16 balls during the match. Smith led all players with eight blocks, and both Vicini and Xu had six a piece. Behind them, freshman libero Elena Oglivie racked up 21 digs. All three pin hitters tallied double-digit digs, including Kipp (16 digs) who smashed her previous career high of four.
Stanford will host California on Sunday, with first serve set for 5 p.m. PT from Maples.