The No. 2 Stanford women’s volleyball team will take on No. 5 California at home tonight in the 71st Big Spike. Although meetings with rival Cal (17-1, 7-1 Pac-10) are always much anticipated, this weekend’s battle of the Bay Area teams has an added element of significance, with both teams currently ranked in the nation’s top five and hoping to emerge as the sole leader of the Pac-10.
The Card (16-1, 7-1), coming off a pair of dominant victories last weekend against the Washington schools, hopes to carry its momentum forward into what could be its toughest challenge of the season yet.
“With the Pac-10 being as crazy as it is, with everyone winning and losing big games, we can never get comfortable,” said sophomore defensive specialist Hannah Benjamin. “We know that every game matters, no matter who the opponent, so we make sure to never allow ourselves to let up.
“Also, Cal has the same record as us and has been playing really well,” she continued. “We are very pumped up for this match because it is one step closer to our long-term goal of being the best team in the country at the end [of the season].”
The Cal women’s volleyball team is off to one of its best starts in program history. Until falling at No. 8 USC in a 17-15 fifth set decision on Oct. 9 — coincidentally, the same day that Stanford suffered its only loss of the season across town to No. 11 UCLA — the Bears were 15-0, marking the second-longest winning streak in the school’s history.
The talented duo of senior setter Carli Lloyd and junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey has been instrumental to Cal’s success thus far. Both players posted double-doubles against No. 7 Washington last week — Lloyd with 33 assists and 13 digs, and Murrey with 19 kills and 14 digs — a testament to their offensive and defensive prowess.
Lloyd, just two assists shy of 5,000 for her career, ranks ninth in the Pac-10 record books for all-time career assists. This season, she is fourth among the conference’s assist leaders, dishing an average of 11.42 per set. Lloyd is also one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Lowe’s Senior CLASS award, along with Stanford outside hitter Alix Klineman and Washington setter Jenna Hagglund from the Pac-10.
Murrey’s powerful hitting has put her, like Klineman, among the nation’s premier attackers. She currently ranks fifth nationally in kills per set (5.21) and points per set (5.84); Klineman is second in both categories with 5.76 and 6.3, respectively. Murrey and Klineman are also the only two outside hitters to place in the conference’s top 10 hitting percentages — Murrey has the Pac-10’s seventh-best hitting percentage (.361), while Klineman is third (.397).
The Cal squad has displayed stellar blocking abilities, leading the conference with an average of 3.15 blocks per set. Two sophomore middle blockers, Kat Brown and Shannon Hawari, are one-two in the Pac-10’s individual blocking statistics with averages of 1.38 and 1.25 per set, respectively. Sophomore opposite Correy Johnson, the third Bear in the conference’s top 10 blockers, ranks 10th on the list with 1.04 blocks per set.
Stanford boasts a 62-8 historical edge over Cal, but the series was split last season with each team winning in five sets at home. Although the Cardinal squad is hesitant to declare any one match more significant than others, tonight’s meeting with the Bears comes with high stakes and a fierce tradition of rivalry.
“We never like to consider certain games more important than others because all of them have equal importance in the end, but Cal has a very strong team this year and we are currently tied with them in the standings,” Benjamin said. “Our games versus Cal are always very emotional and intense games, so we hope to get a lot of support from students, families and friends.”
The match will start at 7 p.m. tonight in Maples Pavilion.