After seeing its 22-game win streak come to an end, the No. 2 Stanford women’s volleyball team had to begin anew, starting with its matchup with UCLA on November 16. Three games and three victories later, the Cardinal had officially regained its mojo, ready to take on any opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cardinal’s toughest opponent was the fifth-ranked Bruins (21-7, 13-6 Pac-12), who were clearly itching to continue to kick Stanford (26-3, 18-1) while it was down and send the Cardinal to its second straight loss.
Stanford was determined not to let that happen, however, coming out with five straight points and grabbing a lead it would not relinquish, taking the first set 25-22. Freshman outsider hitter Jordan Burgess had six kills in the first set alone. She would finish with 15 total, as well as 11 digs for her tenth double-double of the season.
The second set paralleled the first, with the Cardinal starting on a 4-0 run and cruising to a 25-18 victory. UCLA was clearly not willing to go down without a fight, however, coming back at the Cardinal with authority in the third set. With the score locked at 11 apiece, the Bruins went on a dominant 14-4 run to send the match to a fourth set.
Said set was deadlocked from the start, with neither team able to gain an advantage over the other. With the score tied at 25-25, Stanford struck, and kills from junior outside hitter Rachel Williams and freshman setter Madi Bugg closed out the Bruins. With this victory, the Cardinal officially clinched the Pac-12 title.
Bugg had one of the greatest performances of her young career, posting 51 assists, 13 digs, five kills and two blocks. Williams also had a terrific game, with a team-high 16 kills on .400 hitting.
Next, Stanford faced Colorado (14-17, 4-15) on Senior Night in Maples Pavilion. After honoring the team’s four seniors—defensive specialist Hannah Benjamin, setter Karissa Cook, outside hitter Hayley Spelman and middle blocker Jessica Walker—Stanford was ready to face the Buffaloes.
Colorado came out firing, determined to ruin Stanford’s big night. In an offensive battle, Colorado took the first set 25-21. But Stanford wasn’t fazed, downing the Buffaloes 12-19 in the second set before dominating them in a 25-13 third set victory.
Again forced to go to a fourth set, the Cardinal didn’t flinch, finishing off Colorado with another solid victory, 25-16. The Cardinal was led on offense by freshman outside hitter Brittany Howard, who tied her career high with 15 kills, while also contributing nine digs. Cook had a strong performance on her Senior Night, with 16 assists and seven digs.
The Cardinal then traveled to Berkeley for the final game of the regular season against archrival Cal (15-14, 9-10). The Golden Bears had disappointed so far this season, but still posed a potential problem for the Cardinal. Stanford, however, was determined to not close its incredible season on a loss.
The Cardinal came out hot, with three straight points to open the first set. While the Golden Bears were able to stay competitive, they were unable to close the early deficit, permitting Stanford to cruise to a 25-20 victory for that set.
The second set looked as though it would go to Cal. The Golden Bears grabbed an early lead, up by as much as four over the Cardinal. Stanford slowly closed the gap, however, grabbing its first lead of the set on a kill from junior middle blocker Carly Wopat at 21-20. Wopat and Williams then took over to lead Stanford to victory. Williams added two kills, Wopat had one and the two combined for a block to lead a 4-2 run and take the second set 25-20.
The Golden Bears appeared competitive at the start of the third set as well, trading points with the Cardinal until both teams were tied at 9. Stanford then went on a 6-1 run, putting Cal in a hole it would be unable to climb out of. The Cardinal took the final set 25-19 to secure its victory and end its season in fitting fashion with a sweep.
Stanford received the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the No. 1 seed in the Berkeley region. The Cardinal and No. 1 Penn State are the only two teams to appear in all 32 NCAA Tournaments. Stanford will open its national championship quest against Jackson State (24-11) at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Maples Pavilion.