Resilience runs under the radar for women’s volleyball

Oct. 23, 2014, 11:10 p.m.

Resilience might not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Stanford’s women’s volleyball team. The No. 1 Cardinal are undefeated through their first 18 matches this season, the team’s best start since winning 20 straight to open their 1994 NCAA championship campaign. It’s a record that more often implies utter dominance rather than having to come through in the clutch.

#22 Madi Bugg
Junior setter Madi Bugg looks to carry the momentum from her performances last week, which earned her the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award to this weekend’s matches. She said, “My mom said, ‘Congrats, you had a lot of digs!’ And I said, ‘I’d better have a lot of digs if everyone’s going to hit at me.’” (ROGER CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

But this year, resilience might just be the thing that carries the team further than they’ve gone in recent years. Last weekend, Stanford pulled off two road wins at altitude, which not only affects the players’ stamina, but also the movement of the ball itself. A five-set win at Colorado on Friday and a four-set win over Utah on Sunday is the type of success last year’s team was not too familiar with.

“It’s magical moments that happen in every season. [In 2012,] we won all the close matches. Last year, we had a bunch of them that we could have won and didn’t. And while we had a great season, any one of them could have changed the season,” said head coach John Dunning. “So it’s contagious and builds confidence to know that when you get in that situation again, you can say, ‘I know how to do this.’”

Last season, the Cardinal dropped each of the three five-set matches they played: at Washington on Oct. 20, against USC on Oct. 30 — the team’s first home loss since 2011 — and against Penn State in the regional final of the NCAA tournament. This season, however, has been quite a different story, with the team 3-0 in such matches having just passed the halfway point of the season.

Stanford women’s volleyball: Situational splits 2012 2013 2014
Five-set matches 4-1 0-3 3-0
Opponent wins first set 5-2 1-3 3-0
Vs. ranked opponents 10-3 5-6 8-0

That grit and confidence is not just important in five-set matches or against ranked opponents like the two the Cardinal will face this homecoming weekend, but also as the team faces more pressure as their winning streak extends further. Stanford’s mindset has long been shaped by Dunning, a veteran in his 14th season of coaching on the Farm and 30th season overall.

“Sweeping teams is great; I’d pick a sweep over beating a team in five sets. But there’s something about winning in five that proves grit and guts, and those are important, especially before the tournament,” said junior setter Madi Bugg. “You’re not always going to get the calls or have the balls falling your way, but knowing that your team can grit it out is really important and gives you a lot of confidence.”

“John is really good about reminding us that we’re not done yet, and that we still have to and still can get a lot better,” said sophomore middle blocker Merete Lutz. “It’s just a lot about reminding yourself that we may be ranked No. 1 or we may be undefeated, but that doesn’t mean anything; it could change so quickly.

“He’s definitely still pushing the same thing. It’s just that he doesn’t want us to lose sight of the fire and passion that we had at the start of the season. He wants to make sure that we keep that in mind and keep the same intensity.”

The Cardinal’s campaign continues tonight against No. 17 UCLA (14-5, 5-3 Pac-12), and Bugg had two words to say about the matchup: “Karsta Lowe…she’s crazy.”

Lowe, the Bruins’ senior outside hitter from Rancho Santa Fe, California, has come a long way since walking on to the team as a freshman and is in the middle of a monster season. This season, she leads the nation with 6.03 kills per set — more than half of a kill higher than the second-best mark — records 6.65 points per set and has a team-high .344 hitting percentage.

She is also the reigning AVCA National Player of the Week after she tallied 33 kills against Oregon last Wednesday, the most kills for a UCLA player in the rally-scoring era (since 2001).

When asked how the team designs a game plan for a player like Lowe, Bugg said, “You look at their tendencies: if they like swinging cross or line, if they roll shot a lot…We talk a lot about setting up the block to force the hitter to make a choice. They have to thread the needle a little more, which is hard to set up the block that way and hard for the hitter.”

On Sunday, Stanford will welcome No. 19 USC (12-7, 5-4) to Maples for the first time since the Trojans snapped their 24-match home winning streak last October. USC is a different team now since losing six of seven matches at the end of their nonconference slate and into their Pac-12 schedule.

“The timing of their sets is so different from anyone else we play and they have [sophomore outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu] and [junior outside hitter Samantha Bricio] who are both big guns,” Bugg said. “We’ve beaten USC at home, but we haven’t beaten USC at their place [in my time], so if you beat them here, you take the confidence into their place.”

Tonight’s match against UCLA is set for 6 p.m. and Sunday’s match against USC is set for 5 p.m. Both will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’

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'

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