Last month on Thursday, Dec. 14, the No. 3 ranked Stanford women’s volleyball team’s (30-4, 19-1 Pac-12) season came to a shocking end, as they failed to finish their comeback and fell in five total sets to the No. 2 ranked Florida Gators (30-2). This loss, only the Cardinal’s fourth of the season, left the team out of the final game, and stopped their attempted repeat at a national championship.
The Cardinal looked shaken out of the gate, as they dropped the first two sets consecutively, 22-25 and 21-25. The Gator offense was an immediate force in the match, as star players Rhamat Alhassan, Carli Snyder, and Shaniah Joseph began having their way with the cardinal blocks. Alhassan led all attackers in the match with a .517 hitting percentage in addition to posting 17 total kills and 4 blocks.
The Gator serves were also too much for the Cardinal to handle, as Florida out-aced Stanford 6-0, and consistently put the Cardinal offense on the back foot with difficult receives and forced passing errors. Florida held healthy leads throughout the first two sets, and never seemed to be in jeopardy of being caught.
Principle in the Gator victory was the disappearance of Stanford’s sophomore middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris. Dominant in the matches leading up to this semifinal, Fitzmorris was consistently assisting the team on offense and defense. During the match against Florida, she didn’t look herself at all, missing easy kills and spiking her usually potent slide hit straight into receives. At 6’6” and as Stanford’s only true height middle blocker, the Cardinal couldn’t replace her, even as she swung only 8 kills on 27 attacks with 6 errors, for a .074 hitting percentage. She also only contributed 4 total blocks on the night, as Stanford was out-blocked 6-9.
Stanford would not go gently into the light, however, and rallied out of the locker room to take back sets three and four and force a fifth set. They won the next two contests dominantly, 25-18, and 25-18.
Vital to this comeback were the usual suspects, primarily sophomore setter Jenna Gray and sophomore libero Morgan Hentz. Gray, while having some setting jitters early on in the match, came into her own and dished out 49 total assists. She also dumped several balls over the net, surprising Florida and coming up with 6 kills of her own.
Hentz was the only reason the Cardinal were in the match to begin with. With a match-high and career-high 25 jaw-dropping digs, Hentz proved herself on a national stage, and gave the Cardinal a fighting chance in every single point.
Offensively, the Cardinal found themselves bouncing back thanks to the efforts of senior opposite Merete Lutz in her final volleyball game with Stanford, as well as ESPN’s player of the year, sophomore ace Kathryn Plummer. Lutz led the team with a match-leading 19 huge kills, and Plummer followed her up with 16. During the Cardinal comeback, the offense really began clicking as it had during the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to pull out the match, and the Gators were able to claim the eventual victory. Tied 4-4 in the 15-point 5th set, the Gators ripped off five straight points with impeccable serving to close out the game and advance to the finals.
On Saturday, Dec. 16, No. 4 ranked Nebraska (32-4) upset the Gators in the finals to claim the national championship.
The Cardinal will return next season with their central core of players intact, in addition to adding a new recruiting class. They will only lose Merete Lutz, whose contributions to the team and massive impact on the court will be truly missed.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada “at” stanford.edu