W. Vball: It’s a sweet sixteen for Stanford

Oct. 22, 2012, 3:23 a.m.

The games were certainly closer than anyone would have hoped, but the Stanford women’s volleyball team managed to continue its winning ways and roll through another weekend with two Pac-12 wins. The Cardinal pulled off five-set road victories over Washington and Washington State, extending its winning streak to 16 games.

On Friday, No. 2 Stanford (18-2, 10-0 Pac-12) faced off with the No. 5 Washington Huskies (16-2, 7-2), one of its strongest competitors in the Pac-12. The match certainly didn’t start well for the Cardinal, as it dropped the first set to the Huskies 25-10. Stanford hit .-175 in the set and looked entirely out of sorts on the offensive end.

W. Vball: It's a sweet sixteen for Stanford
Stanford and freshman outside hitter Brittany Howard (16) won its 16th straight match on Sunday, but needed a comeback in the fifth set to knock off Washington State (VERONICA CRUZ/The Stanford Daily).

The Cardinal refused to go down without a fight, however, trading blow for blow with the Huskies throughout the second set. After Washington rallied to tie the score at 10-10, neither team managed to take a lead greater than two until Stanford finally put the Huskies away 28-26.

The third and fourth sets played as near replicas of the first two. Stanford performed terribly on the offensive end in the third, hitting negative and dropping the set 25-10 again. In the fourth, it managed to take an early lead before Washington roared back. The rest of the set was again back-and-forth, with the Cardinal finally squeaking out a 26-24 win.

Ultimately, with the match down to the fifth set, the Cardinal came out as an entirely new team. Stanford roared to an early 5-1 lead and didn’t look back, capturing the decisive set 15-7. Stanford hit .400 in the fifth and looked nothing like the team that had been blown out in two of the first four sets and barely escaped from the other two.

In the end, however, the Cardinal managed to continue its win streak and defeat one of the biggest rivals to its success this year, despite a season-low hitting percentage. They were led on the offensive front by junior middle blocker Carly Wopat, who tallied 15 kills and two blocks. A week after winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors, sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert had 25 digs, tying her career high.

After its shaky performance against Washington, the Cardinal seemingly lucked out on Sunday, facing the Washington State Cougars (10-12, 0-10), the only team winless in Pac-12 play. The Cougars certainly seemed outclassed by Stanford at the start, as the Cardinal dominated on the offensive front, hitting .467 and claiming the first set 25-14.

Washington State came out with more fire in the second set, but Stanford finished on a 10-5 run to put the Cougars away, 25-17. Freshman outside hitter Jordan Burgess led the Cardinal with four kills, part of her 16 in the match.

With the match looking all but over, Washington State rallied in a big way. The Cougars won the first point of the third set and didn’t look back, refusing to relinquish that early lead. The Cougars claimed the set 25-21, despite Wopat tallying six kills. The junior continued her strong play of late, hitting .467 in the game while leading the team with 16 kills and seven blocks.

Washington State began the fourth set on a 5-0 run, a lead that Stanford was unable to overcome, again dropping the set 25-21. For the third straight game Stanford found itself needing to play a fifth set, and for the third straight game it found a way to win that decisive set.

The home crowd was into the match and the momentum was solidly with the Cougars, who caught a lucky break when the referee ruled against Stanford on a ball that was blocked at the net.

But after taking a 6-5 lead in the final set, Washington State couldn’t come through in what would have been the first Stanford loss to the Cougars since 2002. The Cardinal defense was suffocating, holding the Cougars to just .053 hitting and posting three blocks in the set. Using some nice plays from freshman outside hitter Brittany Howard–who had three kills, two blocks and an assist in the set– Stanford took the set 15-10, securing its 16th straight victory and preventing the Cougars from claiming their first Pac-12 win in a major upset.

As always, the stellar Stanford freshmen made their impact felt during the road trip. Burgess had eight kills and 19 digs against Washington, and tallied 16 kills against Washington State. Howard added 17 kills and 22 digs on the weekend, while freshman middle blocker Inky Ajanaku had 13 kills and 10 blocks.

Freshman Madi Bugg, splitting time at setter with senior Karissa Cook, continued to play at a high level, with 37 sets against Washington and 27 against Washington State. She also added 14 digs against the Cougars, completing her eighth double-double of the season.

The Cardinal will look to continue its winning ways this week against Arizona and Arizona State, both of which are in the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings. The Wildcats come to Maples Pavilion on Wednesday, while the Sun Devils will face the Cardinal on Friday.

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