Having swept both of its matches last weekend with both defense and offense in sync, now is as good a time as any for Stanford’s women’s volleyball team to embark on one of its most difficult road trips of the year.
The No. 7 Cardinal (12-3, 5-1 Pac-12) will look to sustain its momentum tonight against the Washington State Cougars (15-4, 2-4), ahead of a showdown between two of the three highest-ranked Pac-1
2 teams on Sunday against the No. 6 Washington Huskies (14-1, 6-1).
“This is a big trip every year,” said head coach John Dunning. “It’s the one you have to fly in between, so you really have to be rested and get yourself ready to do it.”
After focusing on defensive drills in practice leading up to last weekend after a loss to No. 2 USC, Stanford defeated Utah on Friday and Colorado on Saturday with exactly that: defense. The team held its opponents to a .191 hitting percentage over the weekend and recorded 18.67 digs per set, compared to its 15.37 average prior. Junior libero Kyle Gilbert led the team with 5.83 digs per set, controlling many of them to set up offensive attacks.
Senior outside hitter Carly Wopat, who had 10 kills and hit .529 in each of the team’s weekend matches, was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 14, the first Cardinal player to receive the honor this season. This season, she leads the Pac-12 with a .498 hitting percentage (third nationally) and 1.40 blocks per set (13th nationally). With 992 career kills, Wopat can surpass 1,000 tonight against Washington State.
Stanford looks to improve its 52-3 overall record against Washington State; the last time the Cougars beat the Card was on Nov. 16, 2002 in Pullman, Wash. The Cougars are coming off a split last weekend in which they upset No. 16 Arizona State but lost to Arizona, both in five-set matches. Freshman outside hitter Kyra Holt leads the team with 4.11 kills per set (fifth in Pac-12).
A tougher test will come on Sunday, when the Cardinal, who owns a 49-11 record all-time against Washington, looks to repeat history, trying to hand the Huskies their first home loss of the season like it did last October. Down 23-24 in the fourth set, Stanford saved match point on a Husky service error and won the set 26-24, before decisively taking the fifth set 15-7. Washington had 16 team blocks and held the Card to a season-low .110 hitting percentage but couldn’t pull out the victory in front of a season-high crowd of 4,401. The Card defeated the Huskies again on Nov. 8 last year in a four-setter at Maples Pavilion.
Washington has won four straight matches, having dropped only one set, since losing for the first time on Oct. 4 against Colorado in Boulder. Coming into this week, the team led the NCAA with 1.96 service aces per set, with sophomore outside hitter Cassie Strickland leading the team with 0.41 service aces per set.
Two Huskies to watch are junior outside hitters Krista Vansant and Kaleigh Nelson. Vansant, who is hitting .344 and leads the team with 3.90 kills per set, is coming off a dominant match against Cal on Wednesday. She reached 1,000 career kills in the match, hit .448 and recorded her sixth double-double of the season with 14 kills and 14 digs. Nelson, who is hitting .293 and averaging 2.75 kills per set, matched her teammate with 14 kills in the match against Cal, with seven of those coming in the first set.
Stanford takes on Washington State in Pullman tonight at 6 p.m. and Washington in Seattle at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Both matches will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.