Beach volleyball heading back to the desert

April 8, 2021, 9:46 p.m.

Stanford beach volleyball (14-3, 5-2 Pac-12) is on a roll. With 13 straight victories under its belt, the team has smashed the program-record, 11-game win streak achieved in 2018 and has taken down four top-15 teams in the process. 

Whether the Cardinal can continue the success streak through its toughest challenge yet will be determined this week. Returning to the desert for the second time in two weeks, Stanford will face No. 12 Arizona, No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 USC and No. 11 Cal at the Pac-12 North Invitational on Saturday and Sunday. 

The Wildcats will kick off Stanford’s weekend in Phoenix with an 11:30 a.m. PT match on Saturday. Arizona will be looking to avenge a 3-2 loss dished out by the Cardinal two weeks ago at the Pac-12 South Invitational. Junior Charlie Ekstrom and senior Sunny Villapando earned the match’s first point as the No. 1 pair, but Arizona answered back with a victory at the No. 5 flight. Stanford’s No. 2 pair of freshmen Xolani Hodel and Kate Reilly pushed the score to 2-1 after defeating Wildcats Brooke Burling and Sarah Blacker. 

When Arizona responded with a win at court three, it was junior Maddie Dailey and Jordan McKinney that secured the Cardinal victory with a clinching 21-19, 19-21, 15-11 result at the No. 4 flight. Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup with momentum — the Cardinal’s obviously coming from its 13-0 run and the Wildcats’ stemming from a dominant defeat of No. 8 Pepperdine on April 3. 

Stanford’s second Saturday competitor will be the last team to hand the Cardinal a loss: UCLA. The teams last met on Feb. 27 during Stanford’s season-opening trip to Southern California, and the Cardinal returned to the Farm almost empty-handed after dropping both matches to the Bruins. A day earlier, Stanford had split a pair of contests against Long Beach State. 

UCLA faced little resistance from Stanford during the second of the teams’ battle, in which the Bruins claimed a 5-0 shutout victory. Only one Cardinal pair — Ekstrom and Reilly at the No. 2 flight — managed to break 20 points, doing so in one set against UCLA’s Devon Newberry and Lindsay Sparks, but were unable to capitalize and fell 23-21 after being downed 21-16 in the previous set. 

While Stanford has been climbing the rankings in recent weeks, UCLA has wavered little from its position at No. 1. If the Cardinal wishes to push its win streak to 15 on Saturday, taking charge early and maintaining strong defense will be crucial. 

USC commences Stanford’s Sunday action at 11:30 a.m. PT for the first meeting between the teams this season. Cal follows at 4 p.m. PT, and the Cardinal will be looking to repeat against the Golden Bears after claiming a 3-2 victory over the rival earlier this month.

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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