No. 11 Stanford women’s volleyball (21-7, 9-5 Pac-12) will take on Denver (23-8, 13-3 Summit League) Friday night in Maples Pavilion in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With a win, the Cardinal will advance to the second round on Saturday, also in Maples Pavilion. In total, three matches will be played at Stanford this weekend, which comprise the first two rounds of the tournament.
Stanford comes into this game on a four-match winning streak and with a higher national ranking, so on paper, the Cardinal have the upper hand. However, this is the postseason, and Denver is a skilled opponent, so a Stanford win will require precision and communication.
The Cardinal and the Pioneers have similar strengths, making the match a tough setup for both teams.
On the defensive end, the two teams match up relatively evenly. Stanford holds a record of about 14.2 digs per set and Denver boasts a slightly higher 14.5.
Of course, defense is one of Stanford’s fortes, as the team features several star defensive players, including fifth-year senior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, whose 1.51 blocks per set rank eighth in the nation. A double threat, Ajanaku also plays a key offensive role and is second on the team with 2.66 kills per set.
Defensively, she is joined by freshman middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris, who has racked up 151 total blocks this season, barely trailing Ajanaku’s 154. Her 1.42 blocks per set rank 17th in the nation, and Stanford is one of just two teams to have multiple players in the top 20.
On the attack, the Cardinal will no doubt look to their team leader in kills, freshman outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, who has been a spark offensively this season, tallying nearly 80 more kills than anyone else on the squad.
Stanford does have the edge over Denver with 14.1 kills per set in comparison to the Pioneers’ 13.2, but these statistics don’t show a large gap in talent between the two teams. The Cardinal have also slightly outdone the Pioneers with a .274 attack percentage this season, in comparison to Denver’s .266.
On the whole, Stanford should be wary of Denver’s service, as the Pioneers have tallied 162 aces this season. In fact, the Pioneers have recorded an average of nearly 1.4 aces per set, making this one of their strongest assets.
Should the Cardinal advance to the second round, they will take on either the No. 20 Western Kentucky Lady Toppers (30-2, 14-0 Conference USA) or the Boise State Broncos (25-6, 16-2 Mountain West). Each team won its respective conference title, and the Broncos are currently riding a 14-match win streak, so the Cardinal may have their work cut out for them. However, Stanford owns a 2-0 lifetime record against the Lady Toppers and swept them the last time the teams met in the 2012 postseason.
The Cardinal will begin NCAA Tournament play for the 36th consecutive season on Friday. Both Friday and Saturday’s games will be streamed live on Pac-12.com, with Stanford’s first serve at 7 p.m.
Contact Laura Sussman at laura111 ‘at’ stanford.edu.