Women’s volleyball gets back on track with two conference sweeps

Oct. 14, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

After a long week of defensive work, team meetings and film study to overcome last Saturday’s loss to No. 2 USC, Stanford’s women’s volleyball team swept both of its weekend matches against the Utah Utes and the Colorado Buffaloes in dominating fashion.

The No. 8 Cardinal (12-3, 5-1 Pac-12) defeated the Utes (14-4, 3-3) in three sets (25-17, 25-18, 25-18) on Friday. With the victory, Stanford improved to 19-4 in matches directly after losses over its last five seasons.

Junior libero Kyle Gilbert
Junior libero Kyle Gilbert (10) recorded 35 total digs during Stanford’s weekend homestand sweep of conference foes Utah and Colorado. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

The Card won five straight points on serve to start off the first set and never looked back. It maintained control throughout the match, falling behind just once at 8-9 in the second set. But after winning three straight points — two on Utah attack errors — to go back up 11-9, the Card didn’t surrender the lead for the rest of the match.

On the attack, Stanford outhit Utah .327 to .149. It was a season low in hitting percentage for the Utes, forced by a strong Cardinal defense. Junior libero Kyle Gilbert had a team-high 19 digs and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Burgess added 12.

“One of the things we’ve been focusing on in practice is defense,” said senior middle blocker Carly Wopat, “and we did a lot better with that.”

The Cardinal also held the Utes to a season-low five team blocks with a combination of tips, hard spikes and shot placement. The team has been hard to block in general throughout the season, as opponents have recorded an average of just 1.3 blocks per set.

“For us, it just depends on passing. When we pass well enough, it doesn’t matter who the team is, we’re hard to block,” said head coach John Dunning. “Our passers did a good job tonight, and so our setter, most of the time, had choices.”

Sophomore setter Madi Bugg had 37 assists in the match and 39 in Saturday’s match against Colorado, improving her season average to 11.88 assists per set, which ranks among the top six in the nation.

Stanford extended its modest winning streak in Saturday’s match against Colorado (11-5, 3-3), earning another three-set sweep (25-17, 25-19, 25-21).

Senior Rachel Williams was the star of the match, earning her team-high sixth double-double of the season, with 10 kills and 12 digs. She also added three blocks and tied a season high with two service aces.

“Our middles did a really good job of making their blockers hold, so I had a lot of openings, making my job pretty easy,” Williams said. “One of the good things about our offense is that we have hitters pretty much everywhere on the court so that makes it easy to get seams in the block for us.”

The Cardinal offense outhit the Buffs .340 to .240 with many contributors, as five players had nine or more kills. Among them, sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku hit .615 with nine kills and three blocks in the match, including the 200th of her career. Wopat recorded her fourth consecutive match of at least 10 kills and hit .519 in the match.

Stanford trailed just twice in the match, early in the second and third sets, but never by more than two points. The Card was consistently able to stop Colorado’s momentum with strong defensive performances, particularly by Gilbert, who had 16 digs in the match.

“Kyle Gilbert dug some great balls, and she actually dug them and controlled them so we could run offense,” Dunning said.

The Cardinal looks to continue its winning streak next weekend, when it heads up north for one of the most challenging road trips of the season. The team takes on Washington State in Pullman on Friday at 6 p.m. and Washington in Seattle at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Both games will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Jordan Wallach is a Senior Staff Writer at The Stanford Daily. He was previously the Managing Editor of Sports, a sports desk editor for two volumes and he continues to work as a beat writer for Stanford's baseball, football and women's volleyball teams. Jordan is a junior from New York City majoring in Mathematical and Computational Science. To contact him, please send him an email at jwallach 'at' stanford.edu.

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