By James Hemker
Closing out their road schedule for the season, women’s volleyball took No. 8 Washington the distance, but ultimately fell short in a five-set heartbreaker. The Cardinal (2-8, 2-8 Pac-12) forced the Huskies (15-3, 15-3 Pac-12) into extra points in both the third and fifth frames, however, Stanford could not capitalize on the opportunities.
The third set served as a microcosm of the whole match. Down 15-9 at the worst point, Stanford battled back into the set on the arm of redshirt freshman Caitie Baird, coupled with strong serving and excellent defense. The Huskies maintained a tenuous two-point lead to set point at 24-22, however, they could not put the Cardinal away. It would take 18 more serves, including 10 total set points (eight for Washington, two for Stanford), before Washington could finally outlast the upstart Cardinal at 33-31.
Putting away 25 kills and matching her career best from just a game ago, Baird was, for large swaths of the match, Stanford’s only productive hitter. Including her seven blocks and two aces, the 6-foot-3 outside hitter accounted for 34 of her team’s points.
Outside of Baird, only Stanford’s middles could efficiently put away balls, but there was little opportunity to get them involved over the course of the game. Freshman Annabelle Smith and redshirt freshman McKenna Vicini combined for just 50 of Stanford’s 203 total swings during the near-three-hour match. Each middle made the most of her chances, as they both hit over .275. Smith terminated 12 kills, and Vicini tallied seven more with only a single error.
In aggregate, the Cardinal hit just .148 over the course of the match, with their per-set values ranging from -.100 at worst to .269 at best. Thanks to Stanford’s stout defense, the Huskies’ offensive numbers looked pretty similar at the end of the day. Washington was held to a .172 hitting efficiency, which ranks as their second-lowest on the season and by far their lowest value during a win.
Topping the Pac-12 and ranked 10th nationally in blocks-per-set, it only made sense that Smith earned her first career double-double with 10 total blocks. Baird had her hand in seven of the team’s 16 blocks, and Vicini participated in six as well. Behind the blocks, the Cardinal’s backline worked in overdrive to up balls and give the offense second, third and fourth chances during long rallies.
Five different Stanford players reached double-digits in the digs column. Senior outside Meghan McClure achieved 20-plus digs for just the second time in her career, setting a new personal best at 22. Freshman libero Elena Oglivie tied her best for the fourth time this season with 21 digs.
Though the scoresheet says the Cardinal are leaving Seattle with only two more ticks in the loss column, the matches against Washington have showcased the heart and tenacity this young team has. Despite having just nine — and then just eight — players available, and despite having played half the number of games of their opponent, Stanford fought to the bitter end, forcing Washington to earn every set and every point.
The Cardinal will have one more weekend playing against UCLA in Maples Pavilion, before their bizarre and unpredictable season comes to an end.