A year after losing three fifth sets in three tries, Stanford’s women’s volleyball team went the distance for the second consecutive match on Sunday and came out victorious once again — albeit in a different situation.
No. 8 Illinois (3-2) gave No. 2 Stanford (4-0) a run for its money on Sunday morning in the last match of the Pac-12/Big 10 Challenge, even holding a 2-1 lead going into the fourth set. However, the Cardinal mounted a comeback, essentially assuring that they will be the No. 1 team in the country in the AVCA poll’s Monday release, as they clinched the victory, 25-22, 19-25, 20-25, 25-22, 15-12.
For a second straight game, redshirt freshman middle blocker Merete Lutz had a big impact, particularly in the team’s must-win fourth set. She tallied four of her nine kills and five of her six blocks in that set alone, and finished the match with a .571 hitting percentage (9-1-14).
Stanford even trailed at beginning of the fifth set, after Illinois’ senior opposite hitter Liz McMahon slammed four of her match-high 19 kills early in the frame, giving the Illini a two-point lead as late as 6-4. Though the Cardinal earned a side-out on a kill from junior setter Madi Bugg and then followed with a three-point run on senior opposite hitter Morgan Boukather’s serve, turning their deficit into an 8-6 lead.
While the teams traded points after, evening the score at eight, 10, and 11, the Cardinal won four of the last five points in the match — three on Illinois’ errors — to earn a five-set win.
Junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku finished one kill short of a career high, with 16 kills to go along with six blocks. Named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player shortly after the match, Ajanaku hit .442 over the two weekend matches against Big Ten opponents, also averaging three kills per set. She is also has a team-high .474 hitting percentage and 3.38 kills per set average on the season.
Junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess earned her fourth double-double in four games this season against Illinois, despite a team-high-matching nine errors, which surpassed her total of eight over her previous three games this season. Burgess finished the match with 13 kills and 18 digs.
The Cardinal host the Stanford Invitational next Friday and Saturday, with Duke, Penn, and Santa Clara all making their way to Palo Alto. Stanford will open up the tourney against their fourth ranked opponent in five games this season, taking on Duke at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.