A straight-set Cardinal victory over the No. 2 Washington Huskies in a clash of volleyball titans Saturday night at Maples Pavilion sent shockwaves through the Pac-12 and the entire country, but no one learned more than No. 7 Stanford coach John Dunning and his players.
“The message we send is really to ourselves: we have a good team this year. The possibilities are limitless,” Dunning said.
Stanford (14-3, 8-3 Pac-12) took a four-game winning streak into the weekend matches against Washington and Washington State and did not disappoint. The Cardinal dismantled the Washington State Cougars (11-8, 3-6) on Friday night thanks to a quick start that saw it take the first set 25-13 in dominating fashion. The Card went on to win the second set 25-21 and the third 25-6 for a straight-set victory.
Leading the charge once again was sophomore outside hitter Rachel Williams, who torched the Cougars offensively with a match-high 13 kills. Freshman Lydia Bai pitched in with 12 kills, as the pair smothered the Cougar defense all night long. Stanford was able to hold outside hitter Megan Ganzer in check, limiting her to 10 kills for the match. Much of the credit goes to middle blocker Carly Wopat, who led the way at the heart of Stanford’s defense with three blocks.
But the true test came on Saturday night when the Washington Huskies (15-3, 7-3) rolled into town. Coming off of a loss to California, the Huskies were hungry for a win to keep them above Stanford in the Pac-12 standings. However, in front of over 4,000 screaming fans, the Cardinal could not be stopped.
Stanford started off strong, taking a 22-14 lead in the first set. But four straight errors by Bai, Williams and Wopat allowed the Huskies to climb back, forcing the Card to take a timeout. Regaining its composure, Stanford closed out the set for a 25-19 victory.
Wopat got things going for Stanford in the second set, opening with three straight kills. The sophomore came up big when she was needed most, recording 10 kills and three blocks on a match-high .500 hit percentage. Just when the Huskies began to make a run, junior setter Karissa Cook shifted the momentum back Stanford’s way with a phenomenal behind-the-back kill followed by an ace. Cook played extremely well, recording 30 assists and 13 digs to lead all players in both categories.
Then it was time for the Rachel Williams show, as she stifled the Washington defense with back-to-back kills. Williams put on an exhibition on the attack for the fans, leading all players with 15 kills.
“We wanted to keep the momentum going [and] put pressure on them,” she said.
They did just that, winning the second set 25-16, giving Stanford a commanding two-set lead heading into the locker room.
However, the Huskies were not going to lie down and hand Stanford the game. They came out for the third set with a fire that had been missing earlier in the match. Washington battled back from an early deficit to tie the set at 22. The Cardinal continued to fight, taking a 24-23 lead and then ending the match in dramatic fashion with an ace from Wopat.
“It wasn’t pretty in the third set, but we just fought,” Dunning said.
Saturday night’s win against Washington highlights the best stretch of the season thus far for the Cardinal, during which it has won six straight. With the win, Stanford managed to leapfrog Washington in the Pac-12 standings, moving up to fourth place with plenty of games remaining.
The Cardinal will look to continue climbing on the road as it travels to Arizona next weekend to take on Arizona and Arizona State.