Undefeated women’s volleyball set for high-altitude road trip

Oct. 17, 2014, 12:36 a.m.

For six consecutive weeks, Stanford’s women’s volleyball team (16-0, 6-0 Pac-12) has sat atop all other teams in the nation. With the team managing expectations to bring another NCAA championship banner back to Maples Pavilion while touting an undefeated record and a No. 1 ranking, it would be easy for the team to get complacent and lose the fire to win.

Junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess (ROGER CHEN/The Stanford Daily)
Junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess (23) tied her career-high with 19 kills on .410 hitting last Friday against Arizona, and tallied her 800th career kill on Sunday against Arizona State. She’ll look to build off of those performances this weekend against Colorado and Utah. (ROGER CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

Head coach John Dunning realizes the pressures that accompany maintaining a top program and keeping the team primed for success week in and week out.

“The hardest part is to just remind ourselves of it [No. 1 ranking]. So I bring it up almost every day; we’re not going to ignore it…our job is to get better everyday and to set a goal for that day and then do it in practice,” Dunning said. “We try to make it a part of our culture to overcome [complacency] because it can affect anyone.”

Last weekend, the Card knocked off two top-25 ranked opponents in the desert, beating both No. 16 Arizona and No. 18 Arizona State in four sets.

In the win over Arizona, four Cardinal players reached double digits in kills, with junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess tying her career high with 19 kills on a .410 hitting percentage.

On Sunday against Arizona State, both junior outside hitter Brittany Howard and Burgess reached career milestones in kills, with their 700th and 800th, respectively.

“Last year, it would come down to times when we really had to push and we wouldn’t really know what to do or what to change,” Burgess said. “This year, maybe it’s because we have more experience or more maturity or trust each other more when we’re on the court, but there’s just a kind of feeling that we know we’ll be able to pull it out and we know what to change in order to make it happen.

“The feeling is better than it’s ever been when we’re on the court together; it feels comfortable and we can lean on each other when we need to.”

Dunning praised the junior class, which has been the core group of starters since their freshman year for their leadership and rise in maturity this year, complementing the leadership of the two seniors on the team, opposite Morgan Boukather and libero Kyle Gilbert, nicely.

“There’s no doubt that our seven upper class players, the five juniors and two seniors, have been through the same experiences for the past two years,” Dunning said. “There are lots of reasons why we’re more mature and it’s why we’re more consistent when we play; why we hold each other more accountable everyday in good ways instead of getting frustrated.”

Despite the incredible amount of success that the Cardinal have experienced this season, including dethroning defending national champions and then-No. 1 Penn State at the start of the season, Dunning admits that the team always has goals to achieve and areas to improve upon. He wants Stanford to be the kind of team that improves in some regard every week, whether or not the improvements are noticeable.

“We didn’t connect very well in the middle last week and you could see it statistically; you could see it in the game that we watched. So we had to spend some time the last few days and today on connection — that link between setters and hitters — because if we’re going to depend that much on the middle, then we better stay connected,” Dunning said.

“As a team, we need to start serving better because we’ve been getting out-passed almost every match we play in. We thought it was because our passing was bad, but our passing is doing better,” said Burgess. “We made a few changes two weeks ago and changed our outside sets so that Brittany and I could feel a lot more comfortable and in sync with [setter Madi Bugg] and that’s worked really well. Now, we basically have five people who are on the whole time we’re on the court.”

Heading into this weekend against Utah and Colorado, Dunning pointed out that the change in altitude is always something to contend with.

“We know that we are really going to have to focus on passing and serving, because it’s really easy to make mistakes there in both places because it’s different,” Dunning said.

Colorado (11-7, 3-3) is tied for fifth in the conference standings. The Buffaloes are led by senior outside hitter Taylor Simpson, who ranks third in the Pac-12 in with 4.61 kills per set and 5.13 points per set.

Despite its underwhelming record in the Pac-12, Utah (11-6, 1-5) did take UCLA to five sets last weekend in Los Angeles and was able to win a set at No. 20 USC. The Utes are also ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 2.62 blocks per set.

The Card first take on the Buffaloes in Boulder at 6 p.m. on Friday, then travel to Salt Lake City to play the Utes on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Ashley Westhem was Editor in Chief of Vol. 248 after serving as Executive Editor and Managing Editor of Sports. She is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She graduated in 2016 and is currently a Communications masters student. Ashley is from Lake Tahoe, California.

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