W. Volleyball: Card needs weekend sweep and a bit of help to keep Pac-12 title hopes alive

Nov. 17, 2011, 3:03 a.m.

Fresh off last weekend’s disappointing loss to Washington, the Stanford women’s volleyball team heads home for a pair of must-win matches against Oregon and Oregon State. The Cardinal currently sits three games back of conference-leading USC with just three games to play and needs to win out to have any hope of competing for the Pac-12 title.

W. Volleyball: Card needs weekend sweep and a bit of help to keep Pac-12 title hopes alive
It's desparation time for sophomore defensive specialist Mary Ellen Luck and Stanford if they want to secure a Pac-12 title. The Cardinal will need to win out to even have a shot at tying conference-leader USC. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

First up, No. 5 Stanford (20-5, 14-5 Pac-12) faces a tough test in No. 15 Oregon (18-8, 11-7). The Ducks are currently tied with Washington for fifth in the conference, just two-and-a-half games back from fourth-place Stanford. A victory this Friday over the Card would make a huge statement and help propel Oregon into the Pac-12 elite. The last meeting between the two teams resulted in a 3-1 Stanford victory at Oregon, and Stanford would like to replicate the feat in front of its home crowd.

The key to victory for the Cardinal will be containing the powerful Duck offense. The Ducks rank behind just conference-leading USC in both kills and assists, riding one of the strongest outsider hitter-setter combos in the league. Redshirt junior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma is second in the conference with 4.61 kills per set, while sophomore setter Lauren Plum ranks second in the Pac-12 with 11.77 assists per set. In the last meeting between the two teams, Bergsma lit up the Cardinal defense for a match-high 26 kills, while Plum posted a double-double with 47 assists and 17 digs. Keeping this dynamic duo in check will instrumental for a Stanford victory.

On Sunday, Stanford will face Oregon State (14-14, 6-12). In the last meeting between the two teams, Oregon State managed to take a set from the Cardinal before falling 3-1. The Beavers enter the rematch on a four-match losing streak and currently sit in eighth place in the conference, but a victory over Stanford would help build confidence for a young team that could be carried into next year. The Beavers have eight freshmen on the roster, including two-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week middle blocker Arica Nassar, and expect to compete on a higher level as they gain more experience.

The Beaver offense is led by junior outside hitter Camille Saxton, who ranks in the top-10 in the Pac-12 in kills, points and aces per set. In the last meeting between the two teams, Saxton posted a double-double of 22 kills and 12 digs, as well as two service aces. On defense, Oregon State is anchored by sophomore libero Becky Defoe, who ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 4.65 digs per set.

If either Oregon or Oregon State is going to make a statement, they would have to get past the terrific Stanford trio of sophomore outside hitter Rachel Williams, junior setter Karissa Cook and sophomore middle blocker Carly Wopat. Williams and Cook are currently tied for the Pac-12 lead in double-doubles, while Wopat leads the conference in blocks per set, with 1.57.

The series kicks off at Maples Pavilion at 7 p.m. on Thursday against Oregon, and then continues at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon against Oregon State.

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