W. Volleyball: Pac-12 title now within reach

Nov. 12, 2012, 12:36 p.m.

The Stanford women’s volleyball team continued its reign of excellence this week, beating both Washington State and Washington to extend its winning streak to 22-straight and give the Cardinal a solid claim to the title of hottest team in the nation in any sport.

W. Volleyball: Pac-12 title now within reach
Carly Wopat (2) continued her run of stellar play as Stanford swept past Washington and Washington State (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily).

No. 1 Stanford (24-2, 16-0 Pac-12) started its week with a bang, sweeping the Washington State Cougars (12-16, 2-14) on Wednesday. The Cougars had given the Cardinal fits in their last matchup, as Stanford barely edged out a five-set victory.

Washington State continued to match-up well against the Cardinal, playing Stanford to a draw throughout the first set. With the score locked at 19-19, Stanford finally broke out in a big way. Freshman middle blocker Inky Ajanaku and senior outside hitter Hayley Spelman each racked up two kills as the Cardinal closed out the Cougars with a 6-0 run.

The Cougars continued to play well in the second set, however, going back-and-forth with Stanford. The teams were tied as late as 17-17, before Stanford again began to close with authority. Freshman setter Madi Bugg recorded four assists and two kills, leading Stanford on an 8-4 run.

As the Maples Pavilion fans were entertained by the annual “Libero Bounce Contest” between men’s volleyball players Grant Delgado and Scooter Sakaida, the Stanford women readied themselves to prevent Washington State from giving them any more trouble in the decisive third set.

From the start, it was clear that the break was exactly what the Cardinal needed, as it reeled off an early four-point run and didn’t look back, closing the Cougars out 25-15 for its third sweep in a row.

Junior middle blocker Carly Wopat, fresh off winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, again played a starring role, recording 12 kills and three blocks while hitting a career high .706.

Her fellow junior, outside hitter Rachel Williams, also had a big game, hitting .429 on her way to 11 kills. Freshman outside Brittney Howard also chipped in 10 kills, earning her sixth double-double of the season as she also recorded 12 digs.

On Thursday night, Stanford had another tough matchup against No. 5 Washington (20-5, 11-5), who also took the Cardinal to five sets in their previous meeting.

The Huskies seemed to control the first set, taking an early lead and refusing to look back. Stanford, however, refused to give up and fought back. After two straight Washington errors gave Stanford its first lead of the game at 21-20, the Cardinal refused to let Washington regain the advantage, squeaking out the 25-23 victory.

The second set was an absolute different story, as the Cardinal dominated the Huskies in all facets of the game, taking the set 25-11. Stanford played well on offense, hitting .371 in the set, but stole the show with its ferocious defense. The Huskies were held to .000 hitting, as the Cardinal recorded 28 digs in the set alone.

Howard led the defensive movement in the best game of her young career, recording 12 digs in the second set alone. She would finish with 31 digs, which tied former Stanford libero Gabi Ailes for third most in Cardinal history. She also led the team with 12 kills, earning her seventh double-double of the season.

Sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert chipped in 10 of her 24 digs in the set as well, continuing her excellent play of late.

The Husky defense fought back in the third set, holding Stanford to a .034 hitting percentage. While the Cardinal gave Washington a fight, the Huskies were able to prevail 25-21, preventing Stanford from earning its fourth straight sweep.

The fourth set seemed as though it would go to Washington as well, with the Huskies taking an early lead. Washington led 22-18 and seemed poised to take Stanford to five sets again, before the Cardinal took over.

Stanford rallied off a 7-0 run behind three kills from Williams and two from Wopat. The duo also combined for a block, as the Cardinal held off the Huskies for a 25-22 win.

With just four games left, Stanford is securely in first in the Pac-12, holding a three-game lead over No. 2 Oregon. The Cardinal does have a tough road trip ahead, having dates with No. 8 USC on Thursday and No. 6 UCLA on Friday. Stanford will then return home for its final games of the regular season against Colorado and Cal before awaiting its seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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