By James Hemker
Playing in Maples Pavilion for the first time since Dec. 2019, women’s volleyball remembered where they kept the brooms and swept California (1-7, 1-7 Pac-12) away in three sets. The win is the first of the season for the No. 15 Cardinal (1-3, 1-3 Pac-12).
After showing just flashes of cohesion for the first three games, Stanford was able to execute its gameplan for the entirety of the 25-15, 25-20, 25-13 match. The Cardinal averaged 20 points a set, meaning Cal had to commit less than five errors to have a chance.
“We looked like a real volleyball team,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “We were calm and scored sixty points, which is no easy feat.”
A major reason for the drastic improvement was senior outside hitter Meghan McClure, who returned to the starting lineup after missing the Cardinal’s first three matches due to COVID-19 protocols. The only upperclassmen on the floor for Stanford, McClure’s presence noticeably grounded the young squad. In addition to her skills in both passing and defense, McClure brought the intangible that is experience, communicating and keeping everyone on the court organized.
“There’s no player left in the country that has as much experience, especially on the biggest stages, as Meghan,” Hambly said.
While Cal had bombarded Stanford with 12 aces on Friday night, the Cardinal back row was in top form on Sunday, allowing just two first-set aces. The strong passing allowed sophomore setter Selina Xu to have freedom with her sets, going between the pins and her middles. With the team hitting .378, Xu had an efficient attacker waiting at every position.
Outside Kendall Kipp found a comfortable home at right pin, terminating 15 kills with an unseemly .571 hitting percentage. The 6-5 sophomore used nearly every shot in her arsenal, hitting fast, offspeed, cross-court, line, and even running slides from the middle position. On the other side of the court, redshirt freshman Caitie Baird bounced nine balls for kills and McClure tallied six more.
If the pins weren’t enough for Cal, the Cardinal middles were quick and efficient, threatening on any pass that kept Xu close to the net. Freshman Annabelle Smith established herself early, picking up four kills on five swings in the first set. Redshirt freshman McKenna Vicini continued the pressure, ending the night with 8 kills on .375 hitting.
Crucially, the offense was not forced towards Kipp or Baird alone, as it had in previous matches. As such, each attacker was used in her optimal situation, which further allowed for efficient attacking.
“We put Kendall in good situations to allow her to be successful,” Hambly said. “Actually we did that for all of our hitters. Selina did a really nice job with that.”
Defensively, Stanford smothered the Golden Bears, forcing 22 attacking errors to nearly match their 27 kill total. Smith was at the forefront of the impenetrable wall, having a hand in seven of the team’s 10 blocks. In one particularly stalwart point, the Cardinal sent back the Cal attack three times before finally getting the roof on the fourth swing.
Stanford now has a week before a pair of home matches against Washington State.