W. Volleyball: Getting set for a pair of SoCal showdowns

Oct. 8, 2010, 1:33 a.m.

The No. 1 Stanford women’s volleyball team looks to remain perfect as it ventures down to Los Angeles in what could be one of its most challenging weekends of conference play this season.

After dominating the Oregon schools last weekend in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal ladies (13-0, 4-0 Pac-10) will face two ranked opponents on their turf, No. 8 USC (13-1, 2-1) on Friday and No. 12 UCLA (11-3, 1-2) on Saturday.

“Playing on the road is definitely more difficult than playing at home,” said senior outside hitter Alix Klineman. “There are so many things to get distracted by–travel, school, opposing crowds–and it definitely requires 100-percent focus. I think we were reminded of this during our first Pac-10 road trip to Arizona. However, this weekend, I think everybody is really excited to play two strong teams, and [we] are not going to let anything get in the way of playing our best.”

Currently sitting at fourth in the Pac-10, the Trojans have risen from their No. 10 preseason ranking to the No. 8 spot thanks to a 12-game win streak that included big victories over cross-town rival UCLA and No. 5 Hawaii. After suffering a five-set defeat to the No. 9 Washington Huskies in Seattle last weekend–their first loss of the season–the Trojans will look to bounce back against the Cardinal this Friday.

Junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter, who put down her 1,000th career kill several weeks back against UCLA, is second among all Pac-10 players in service aces (0.52 per set), fourth in points (5.48 per set) and fourth in kills (4.43 per set). Junior setter Kendall Bateman, a former teammate of Klineman’s at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, leads the conference in assists, averaging 12.1 per set.

“I played with Kendall and [freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana] in high school, [senior middle blocker Zoe Garrett] in club and [senior defensive specialist/outside hitter Geena Urango] on USA teams, so there are a lot of familiar faces on the USC team,” Klineman said. “Just generally speaking, almost every team in the Pac-10 has players that I have either played with or against in high school. It’s a lot fun to compete against them at the next level, especially having played with these players so much in the past.”

Like USC, UCLA has had a largely successful season thus far–its only three losses to date have been to top-10 teams–and is returning home after a disappointing three-set loss to the Huskies on the road last Saturday.

While the Stanford offense comes into Saturday’s match with the clear statistical advantage–the Cardinal currently leads the Pac-10 in kills, assists per set and average hitting percentage–the UCLA defense may slow down its front row firepower. UCLA leads the conference with 16.11 digs per set as a team (Stanford is second with 15.3), and junior libero Lainey Gera currently tops the individual Pac-10 standings with 4.71 digs per set (Stanford’s senior libero Gabi Ailes is not far behind in fourth, with 4.26 digs per set).

The Bruin offense is led by senior outside hitter Dicey McGraw, an All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection last season, who had 12 kills in the loss to Washington and is averaging 3.89 kills per set (eighth in the conference). Junior middle blocker Katie Camp leads the Pac-10 in blocking with 1.27 blocks per set.

The Cardinal has fared well against both teams in years past, with a 53-18 edge over USC and a 40-32 record against the Bruins. The Card has won its last five matches against the Trojans, but split the series with UCLA last season, suffering a five-set defeat in Maples Pavilion in the teams’ most recent meeting.

Despite sweeping its last three opponents and still being undefeated over a month into the season, the Cardinal doesn’t see the No. 1 ranking as an excuse to let up in either preparation or matches.

“I think our team knows that being the No.1 team now guarantees us nothing at the end of the season,” Klineman said. “Every team out there is improving every day, and for us to stay at the top means that we have to do the same.

“Even though we have been so successful early in the season, our coaches challenge us every day at practice, and we are reminded daily that there are still lots of things we need to get better at,” she added. “With this team, getting too comfortable really isn’t much of an issue, and I’ve really been impressed with how motivated everyone is.”

Stanford takes on USC on Friday and UCLA on Saturday. Both matches are set to start at 7 p.m. in Los Angeles.

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