Riding an eight-match winning streak, the No. 5 Stanford women’s volleyball team headed home this weekend for rematches with two of the three teams that defeated the Cardinal earlier this season. Stanford had mixed success, sweeping No. 4 USC before being swept by No. 6 UCLA.
The last time Stanford (17-4, 11-4 Pac-12) faced USC (18-4, 13-2), the Cardinal was utterly outclassed, failing to win a set for the only time this year. Friday’s match, however, was another story. The Trojans left Maples Pavilion with a straight-set loss, and the Cardinal’s winning streak improved to nine.
The first set was a true back-and-forth affair, but the Cardinal defense was able to keep the potent USC offense in check. Stanford recorded six blocks in the first set alone and finished with 13 overall. On offense, junior outside hitter Hayley Spelman led the way, recording a team-high four kills to go with two blocks.
The second set became the Rachel Williams show, as the sophomore superstar led the way with six kills and seven digs as Stanford cruised to a 25-14 victory. She would finish with 14 kills and 13 digs for her 12th double-double of the season.
Following the 10-minute break, however, Cardinal dominance did not seem quite so secure. Led by senior Alex Jupiter, who tallied six kills in the set and a match-high 16 overall, USC jumped to an early lead. Down 17-12, Stanford promptly killed the USC rally with a furious comeback. Junior setter Karissa Cook led the charge as usual, with 15 assists and six digs in the last set alone—she had 41 and 12, respectively, for the match—as well as the game-winning block as the Cardinal completed the straight-set victory, 25-23.
Ultimately, the story of the match was the ferocity of the Cardinal defense and the efficiency of the offense. The Trojans entered with the highest hitting percentage in the Pac-12 (.284), but they were held to just a .161 clip for the game. Stanford, however, hit .339 overall, led by sophomore middle blocker Carly Wopat’s season-high .611 with 11 kills on 18 attempts.
Unfortunately for Stanford, UCLA had just as much momentum coming into its Saturday showdown, as the Bruins had dismantled No. 2 California the night before in Berkeley. UCLA (20-3, 13-2) had won its previous meeting with the Cardinal and hoped to complete a season sweep for the first time in 11 years.
Right off the bat, Stanford appeared to be in trouble, falling into a 12-7 hole. The Cardinal regrouped, roaring back to hold a 24-21 advantage. However, despite holding three set points, Stanford was unable to close out the Bruins, and UCLA rode three Cardinal errors to a 26-24 first-set victory.
The second set was another close affair. Stanford managed to take a 24-22 lead, but again wasted three set points and fell 27-25. Williams anchored the team with five kills in the set. She would finish with 11 kills and 12 digs for her 13th double-double.
The third set, on the other hand, was all UCLA. The Bruins held Stanford to just a .056 hitting percentage while hitting .448 themselves to take a 25-10 victory in the set. With that, the Bruins were able to complete their season sweep of the Cardinal and hand Stanford its first home loss of the season.
The UCLA match was a stark contrast to Stanford’s hitting prowess just 24 hours before. The Cardinal committed 39 errors and recorded its third-lowest hitting percentage of the season, .140. Part of this can be attributed to the tremendous defense of the Bruins, who made a number of unbelievable saves and recorded 57 digs, compared with a well-below-average 44 for the Cardinal.
Overall, it was a wild weekend for Pac-12 women’s volleyball. With two wins, the Bruins moved up to a tie for first place with USC. Cal lost twice to fall back to a tie for third with Stanford, which managed to move up a spot in the standings despite Saturday’s loss.
Next week, Stanford looks to bounce back as it travels to face Pac-12 newcomers Colorado and Utah.