By Zach Zafran
No. 18 Stanford women’s volleyball (9-5, 4-2 Pac-12) returns to Maples Pavilion to face off against No. 17 Utah (11-4, 4-2 Pac-12) Thursday night. The two teams currently sit in a tie for third place in the Pac-12 and will look to gain an edge in the conference standings.
Both teams have played difficult schedules this season — Thursday’s match will mark Utah’s eighth and Stanford’s ninth contest against ranked opponents.
Stanford enters the match hoping to prove its legitimacy as a top-ranked team. Since statement victories against then-No. 5 Florida (11-6, 5-2 SEC) and then-No. 6 Nebraska (12-3, 6-0 Big 10) earlier this season, the Cardinal have dropped three straight games against ranked opponents, including Sunday’s loss to No. 13 Oregon (14-2, 5-1 Pac-12).
On the other side of the court, Utah comes to Stanford hoping to win at Maples Pavilion for the first time since 2016. The last time the Utes visited the Cardinal, they had their season cut short as Stanford defeated them in the 2019 NCAA Sweet 16.
Come Thursday, the Cardinal will look to put their stellar offense on display. While they lead the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.279), kills per set (13.93) and assists per set (13.09), their attack will not be met without resistance. Utah ranks fourth in the Pac-12 for blocks per set (2.57) as well as fifth in hitting percent allowed (0.192).
On the offensive end, Utah has major star power in fifth-year outside hitter Dani Drews. Drews has garnered nearly every major award there is in her tenure at Utah; she is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, the two-time AVCA Pacific South Region Player of the Year and a two-time AVCA First Team All-American. Drews has tallied a staggering 1,911 kills in five seasons — the third-most among active NCAA players.
The list of Utes to watch does not stop there. Senior setter Stef Jankiewicz, the active NCAA leader in career assists (5,244), will run Utah’s offense on Thursday.
Stanford has a top-notch setter of its own, freshman Kami Miner. Miner continues to impress this season, leading the conference with 11.44 assists per set.
The Cardinal roster includes other statistical leaders. Redshirt sophomore middle blocker McKenna Vicini leads the Pac-12 in blocks per set with 1.40, and sophomore libero Elena Oglivie remains first in digs per set with 4.73.
Both Stanford and Utah enter the match with a lot on the line. With just a 4-19 overall record against Stanford, Utah wants to flip the script. Stanford is looking to break through for its first win versus a ranked opponent in exactly a month.
First serve Thursday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT.