Women’s volleyball gets back on track with win against UCLA

Nov. 2, 2013, 7:10 p.m.

For Stanford women’s volleyball, Friday night’s match against UCLA could have been easily overlooked — it was just another matchup against an unranked team in front of a home crowd at Maples Pavilion. Yet in the two days after Wednesday’s loss to No. 4 USC (19-3, 9-2 Pac-12), the coaching staff’s focus on avoiding another mental letdown paid off, as the Cardinal pulled out a tight four-set victory, 28-26, 25-19, 22-25, 25-11.

“When you play a hard match in an important situation like we did on Wednesday, you can fold,” said head coach John Dunning. “It’s possible to not rebound from it, and you’re just going to hurt yourself. One of our goals as a team is to never walk into a match and be unprepared to play for any reason. We were worried about it.

“This was a big match and I liked our reaction. Especially before the last game, we lost a game and had to say, ‘Hey, we’re not doing this again.’ Then we played really well.”

Inky Ajanaku (right) powered Stanford's victory over UCLA with 10 kills on the night. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)
Inky Ajanaku (right) powered Stanford’s victory over UCLA with 10 kills on the night. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

The No. 6 Cardinal (16-5, 9-3 Pac-12) faced an uphill battle against the Bruins (12-9, 3-8) from the start in a first set that saw 15 tie scores and eight lead changes. A combination of 11 unforced Bruin errors — eight attack and three service — and four Stanford team blocks kept the Card close, yet it still faced a 20-23 deficit down the stretch.

In a complete swing of momentum after a Stanford timeout, the Cardinal went on a four-point run to go up 24-23, spurred by two kills from sophomore outside hitter Brittany Howard, who had a team-high 12 kills and a career-high seven blocks in the match. But UCLA battled back, earning two set points, both saved by the Card. With the score tied at 26, sophomore outside hitter Jordan Burgess first dug a tough Bruin spike and later found open court with a kill on a tip shot. On set point, Burgess slammed another kill, her third of the set, to give Stanford the 28-26 set win.

“Our core attitude was important,” Burgess said. “We managed to stay positive all the time — it felt good on the court even when we weren’t getting as many points as we usually do.”

The Cardinal then took a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-19 second-set victory, as the team won 11 of 13 points in a rally to earn a set point at 24-16. Though UCLA saved three set points, a kill by sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku closed it out — one of her 10 kills in the match. Ajanaku has been particularly strong over the last couple of weeks, hitting .421 with 2.68 kills per set over her last six matches. She had hit .365 and had 2.47 kills per set over her previous six matches.

“[Ajanaku’s] improvement over the last couple of weeks is because she had a couple of weeks when she wasn’t as good as she wanted to be,” Dunning said. “She got put in a position where she was learning that she didn’t know enough, and she’s been working really hard on understanding things about her position. It’s hard in the middle of the season to change things, but she’s doing it and it’s really helping her.”

The Bruins pulled out a third set win, as they hit .302, their highest mark for a set in the match. Yet Stanford battled back with a dominant fourth set victory, outhitting UCLA .400 to .023. The set and match were essentially sealed by a seven-point Cardinal run on Burgess’s short serves, which pushed the team’s lead to 14-6.

The Cardinal will look to carry its momentum into a difficult road trip, which begins at Colorado on Friday at 6 p.m. and then heads to Utah on Sunday at 11 a.m. Sunday’s match will be televised on 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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