Beach volleyball looks to tie program’s longest win streak

March 31, 2021, 9:12 p.m.

A recent surge of success has sent No. 12 beach volleyball (11-3, 5-2 Pac-12) climbing through the rankings, bumping up six spots in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Beach Volleyball Top 20 following a perfect 4-0 showing at the Pac-12 South Invitational in Phoenix. With a 10-game win streak as momentum, the Cardinal faces Saint Mary’s (2-2, 1-0 WCC) on Thursday in search of a program-record-tying 11th straight win. 

Adding to Stanford’s momentum is the fact that three of the team’s last 10 victories have been against Top 14 opponents; the Cardinal stunned No. 6 Hawai’i in a 4-1 result before knocking off No. 8 Grand Canyon and No. 14 Arizona — both in 3-2 outcomes — later that week. 

Unfortunately for the Gaels, matches have been few and far between, giving Stanford a sizable advantage in terms of experience with competition this season. Saint Mary’s has had just four official scoring matches in 2021, and the most recent occurred almost a month ago when the Gaels visited the Farm and narrowly fell 3-2 to the Cardinal; meanwhile, Stanford’s squad has 14 matches under its belt, including eight within the last 10 days. 

The Cardinal’s busy schedule has been especially helpful in acclimating the freshmen to the collegiate level of play, although their early dominance reveals it was hardly necessary. Freshmen Xolani Hodel and Kate Reilly, operating as Stanford’s No. 2 pair, went 6-0 in the last week to help maintain the Cardinal’s winning streak and earn American Volleyball Coaches Association/ Pair of the Week honors. 

The young duo has not lost a match since Feb. 27, when they were outdone by then-No. 2 UCLA’s No. 2 pair of Devon Newberry and Lindsay Sparks. Even then, Hodel and Reilly pushed the Bruins pair to three sets before falling in a close 22-24, 22-20, 14-16 result. 

When the Cardinal last met the Gaels earlier this season, Hodel and Reilly faced relatively little trouble en route to a 21-11, 21-18 victory over Saint Mary’s Jasmin Suarez and Sienna Young to move to 11-2 on the year. Stanford was challenged in other flights, however, and the Gaels earned the point at the No. 3 and No. 5 pairings to crush any chances of a shutout Cardinal victory. Another victory from Hodel and Reilly is crucial if Stanford wishes to prevent Saint Mary’s from capitalizing and snapping the Cardinal’s 10-game run. 

Also dominant in the team’s previous matchups — and instrumental in Thursday’s action — is the Cardinal’s experienced No. 1 pair of junior Charlie Ekstrom and senior Sunny Villapando. Like Hodel and Reilly, the pair is 11-2 on the season and 7-1 between March 22 and 28, dropping just four sets across the eight matches. Villapando added to her list of career accolades on March 22 by earning her 50th and 51st victories — a mark good enough to establish her as the program’s all-time career wins leader. 

Since the last matchup between the two teams took place on the Farm, Saint Mary’s will play host to Thursday’s action. Stanford’s chance to secure its 11th straight victory gets underway at 4 p.m. PT.

Savanna Stewart is a managing editor in the Sports section. She is a junior from Twin Bridges, Montana studying Political Science and Communication and enjoys running and playing basketball. Contact her at sstewart 'at'

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