The No. 2 Stanford women’s volleyball team (22-2, 13-2 Pac-10) will head across the Bay this Friday to take on No. 4 California (23-2, 13-2) in Berkeley. The winner of Big Spike will gain sole position atop the Pac-10 standings, as the teams are currently tied for the lead with two losses each.
In addition to their tied records, the Golden Bears and the Cardinal match up closely in both individual and team statistics. Stanford senior outside hitter Alix Klineman currently leads the Pac-10 with an average of 5.55 kills per set, while Cal’s primary attacker, Tarah Murrey, is a close second with 5.21 kills per set. Murrey and Klineman also lead the conference in hitting attempts, which will put pressure on the middles of both teams to get from pin to pin.
Klineman put down 22 kills during the meeting with the Bears in Maples last month, but Stanford still fell to Cal, 21-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-16. The Cardinal squad still leads the nation with a .321 team hitting percentage, while Cal ranks second in conference.
For the Golden Bears, senior setter Carli Lloyd dictates a fast and aggressive pin-to-pin offense that runs Murrey in both the front and back row, while pressuring the opposing block to keep an eye on first-tempo middle sets. Middle blocker Shannon Hawari and opposite hitter Correy Johnson both hit over .500 on 31 cumulative swings during Cal’s last meeting with the Cardinal, putting down 19 combined kills in addition to the 21 Murrey earned.
Stanford senior libero Gabi Ailes broke the 2,000 career digs mark in Washington last weekend and the Card remains second in the Pac-10 in digs per set. However, Cal is not as strong on defense—the team ranks eighth in the Pac-10 in digs per set.
Nonetheless, defensive shortcomings are often compensated for by the blocking successes of Hawari and middle blocker Kat Brown, who occupy the top two rankings in blocks per set in the Pac-10. Lloyd rounds out the top 10, which is an uncharacteristic statistic for a setter to excel in. Overall, the Bears lead the Pac-10 with 3.02 blocks per set.
“Cal really surprised us with their blocking and defense last time we played them,” Klineman said. “They also exposed some of our blocking weaknesses, so we’ve been focusing on blocking technique in practice for a while now.”
The emphasis is reflected in a statistical improvement in blocking statistics—the Card has risen to third in the Pac-10 in blocks per set. The development of freshman middle blocker Carly Wopat has been fundamental to Stanford’s success at the net. With the injury to redshirt junior middle blocker Stephanie Browne, Wopat has become the Cardinal’s blocking leader with 1.08 blocks per set.
Browne and Wopat contributed 12 combined kills during Stanford’s last meeting with Cal, while freshman outside hitter Rachel Williams and sophomore opposite Hayley Spelman added 21 more kills combined. Redshirt sophomore Jessica Walker will replace Browne on the court this Friday in Berkeley.
Yet the biggest difference between the last match and the impending one is the reemergence of sophomore setter Karissa Cook and the 6-2 offense. With Cook on the floor, senior setter/opposite Cassidy Lichtman can swing on the right side when Spelman reaches the back row, adding a sixth offensive threat to the Cardinal lineup.
“Playing Cal is a huge challenge, and also really exciting,” Klineman said. “It’s our rival, it’s for the Pac-10 championship, it’s in their gym…a lot is on the line.”
First serve is set for Friday at 7 p.m. in Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion.