In what could have been two trap matches for the No. 6 Stanford’s women’s volleyball team, the Cardinal didn’t blink following its grind-it-out win over UCLA last Friday. It swept both Colorado and Utah to start a stretch of four consecutive road matches, its longest such streak of the conference season.
Friday’s match saw the Cardinal (18-5, 11-3 Pac-12) travel to the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colo., where the Colorado Buffaloes (15-9, 7-7) had previously won all five of their home conference matches — three of which came against ranked opponents. The Buffs had also won four of their last five matches overall. Yet the Card became the first team this season to defeat Colorado on its own court, winning 25-19, 25-15, 25-20.
Stanford held the Buffs to a season-low .085 hitting percentage in the match. Junior outside hitter Taylor Simpson, who entered the match ranked eighth in the Pac-12 with 3.38 kills per set, tallied 12 kills on Friday, but she hit just .024 in the match due to 11 attack errors on 41 total attempts.
For the Card, sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku had 10 kills and a team-high .667 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Carly Wopat also had 10 kills to go with a team-high five blocks, and senior outside hitter Rachel Williams tallied eight kills and four blocks.
Though the Cardinal and Buffaloes traded points early in the first set up to a 9-9 score, a four-point run on sophomore setter Madi Bugg’s serve put Stanford up for good. The second set wasn’t much of a challenge either for the Cardinal, as it outhit Colorado .458 to .031, never surrendering a lead in the set after 1-1.
The Buffs came out strong after the intermission with a 10-3 run to open the third set. After a Stanford timeout, however, the Card won 11 of the next 15 points to tie the set at 14 — six of the 11 points coming from Colorado attack errors. Colorado never regained momentum, giving the Cardinal its 14th sweep of the season.
Two days later, Stanford carried its momentum into Salt Lake City and swept the Utah Utes (17-9, 6-8) as well, 25-17, 25-15, 25-17.
In a battle between the top two Pac-12 teams in blocking, it was clear that the Cardinal game plan was to keep the ball away from the Utes’ best blocker, senior middle blocker Erin Redd-Brandon. She entered Sunday’s match leading Utah with 1.43 blocks per set, the best mark in the conference, just ahead of Wopat (1.40).
Stanford, with a combination of audible calling in transition, cross-court hitting and strong outside play, was able to limit Redd-Brandon to just three blocks total — with just one through the first two sets.
The Cardinal defense, spurred by a strong blocking performance (nine total team blocks), continued to dominate on Sunday, holding the Utes to season-lows in kills (32) and hitting percentage (.088). Wopat led the team with six blocks, and three other players tallied three each. Offensively, Bugg set up the Stanford attack with 33 assists, and Ajanaku hit a match-high .643.
“Our passes have been awesome,” Ajanaku told Pac-12 Networks after the match. “It’s really great to run an offense off passing that’s focused and driven the entire time.”
Ajanaku continues to improve her offense over recent weeks, as she’s hitting .584 and averaging 3.00 kills per set over her last five matches. In the 17 matches prior, she hit .398 and averaged 2.36 kills per set.
The Cardinal has just a few days back in California before taking on Oregon in Eugene at 6 p.m. on Thursday and Oregon State in Corvallis at 7 p.m. on Saturday — both rematches of Stanford sweeps earlier this season. Thursday’s match will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.