Having just grinded out a four-set victory over UCLA after a five-set marathon defeat to No. 4 USC, the Stanford’s women’s volleyball team will not get a break this weekend. The Cardinal begins a four-match road trip tonight against the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, Colo., where the Buffs are undefeated in five conference matches this season — with three of those wins coming against ranked opponents.
The No. 6 Cardinal (16-5, 9-3 Pac-12), coming off a signature win last Friday against the Bruins, hopes to carry its momentum into tonight’s tussle with Colorado (15-7, 7-5). A point of emphasis for the Card over the past week has been avoiding mental letdowns, which partially led to the team’s defeat against USC, so battling back after losing the third set in the match against UCLA was a point of pride for Stanford head coach John Dunning.
Sophomore outside hitter Brittany Howard has been one of the Cardinal standouts over recent weeks, as she’s improved both her offensive and defensive performance of late. She’s averaging 3.05 kills per set and 0.95 blocks per set over her last six matches, an improvement over 2.85 kills per set and 0.69 blocks per set in her 15 prior matches. Not to mention, Howard had a team-high 12 kills and a career-high seven blocks in last Friday’s match against UCLA.
“We did a good job of starting well, being really aggressive and getting good streaks of points,” Howard said. “We know that Colorado is a really good team on [its] home court. There’s a difference with the altitude, but we can’t focus on that. We have to know the system that we want to play against their offense.
“We know they’re very pin-dominant in their setting game, so the key is not letting them get streaks of points or kills early, and we want to win the serve-and-pass game.”
The last time these two teams met — on Oct. 12 at Maples Pavilion — Stanford dominated in a three-set sweep, outhitting the Buffaloes .340 to .240. The Cardinal trailed just twice in the match and was consistently able to stop Colorado’s momentum with strong defensive performances, particularly by junior libero Kyle Gilbert, who had 16 digs in the match.
It was a complete team victory, as five Stanford players had nine or more kills. Sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku hit a match-high .615 with nine kills and three blocks in the match, while senior outside hitter Carly Wopat recorded 10 kills and hit .529 in the match. A key for the Cardinal was limiting Colorado junior middle blocker Kelsey English to just two kills and a .286 hitting percentage, despite her .367 season attack average that ranks sixth in the conference.
Going into tonight’s match, the Buffaloes have won four of their last five matches, with their only loss coming against No. 3 Washington in Seattle. Players to watch for the Buffs are junior outside hitter Taylor Simpson and senior middle blocker Nikki Lindow. Simpson is averaging 2.59 digs per set and ranks eighth in the conference with 3.38 kills per set. Lindow ranks sixth in the Pac-12 with 1.23 blocks per set.
Stanford takes on Colorado tonight at 6 p.m. from the Coors Events Center in Boulder. The match will be streamed live on gostanford.com.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.