No. 18 Stanford women’s volleyball (10-5, 5-2 Pac-12) hosted No. 17 Utah (11-5, 4-3 Pac-12) Thursday night at Maples Pavilion. In an important match in the ultra-competitive Pac-12, the Cardinal fended off the Utes to win 3-1.
Following a brutal five-set loss against No. 13 Oregon (14-2, 5-1 Pac-12) on Sunday, Stanford looked to get off to a quick start against Utah. However, doing so proved more difficult than expected. The Cardinal came out slowly against the Utes, making uncharacteristic service errors, mishandling passes and generally looking out of sorts.
“To be honest, I think we didn’t come out ready to fight in the very beginning of the first set,” said junior opposite Kendall Kipp.
Stanford went down 5-11, and head coach Kevin Hambly called a timeout to reset. Hambly subbed in junior setter Selina Xu, allowing freshman setter Kami Miner to take an aggressive offensive approach. Hambly’s strategy worked, and just a few plays later, Miner registered back-to-back kills.
Stanford continued to claw its way back into the first. When redshirt sophomore middle blocker McKenna Vicini snuck a spike through the Utah defense, the score was 13-10. Two plays later, Vicini assisted on a block with Kipp to tie the game at 13.
The first set pressed on, and Utah opened another lead. Kipp connected for a kill off a pass from Miner, but two plays later, Utah took a 24-21 advantage. The Cardinal faced three set points.
On the first set point, Vicini kept Stanford alive with a kill. Then, she assisted on a block with redshirt sophomore outside hitter Caitie Baird. On the third and final set point, Vicini assisted on another block, this time with Kipp involved in the play.
After surviving all three set points, Stanford was in the driver’s seat. With the score tied, sophomore defensive specialist Alex Lougeay placed her serve perfectly for an ace. On the following play, a Utah attack error clinched a 26-24 comeback win for the Cardinal.
Despite Stanford’s slow start to the first set, its defensive numbers were stellar; the Cardinal held the Utes to a mere .108 hitting percentage for the first frame.
But Stanford couldn’t keep the Utah offense under wraps forever. In the second set, the Utes exploded for 13 kills on a .357 hitting percentage.
The second set remained close until a service run by Utah senior setter Stef Jankiewicz eliminated Stanford’s chances. Beginning her serve with an 18-17 lead, Jankiewicz recorded two aces and won seven straight points to give Utah the victory.
With Stanford and Utah tied at one set apiece, the tiebreaker third set went down to the wire. A Baird kill off an assist from Miner gave Stanford a 22-20 lead, but Utah quickly followed with two points.
Baird broke the 22-22 tie with an expertly executed tip. Then, Miner and senior middle blocker Holly Campbell combined for a block to give Stanford a 24-22 lead. On set point, Utah mishandled Baird’s serve, and Miner sealed the deal with a thunderous kill.
Unfortunately for Utah, the fourth set would not be as close as the previous three; Stanford grabbed the lead early and never relinquished it.
The Cardinal all but shut down the Utes’ offensive production, limiting them to a dismal .059 hitting percentage. Offensively, Stanford hit at a .361 clip behind the stellar performance of freshman outside hitter Sami Francis.
In the fourth set, Francis tallied five kills on 11 swings with no attack errors. She was responsible for three of Stanford’s last four points, including its final one. On match point, Francis connected on an emphatic kill off a set from Baird that nearly scraped the video board.
For the match, Baird led the team with 17 kills. Miner collected a game-high 43 assists, and sophomore libero Elena Oglivie had the most digs with 14.
Kipp played a particularly well-rounded game. The 6’5” opposite excelled offensively with 14 kills on a .407 hitting percentage and also played a crucial role in slowing down Utah’s star outside hitter Dani Drews.
The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, Drews came into the match averaging 4.76 per set. On Thursday, she posted 20 kills but hit well below her season hitting percentage of .247. She also made 10 attack errors.
Kipp attributed much of her success defending Drews to Hambly’s defensive scheme.
“We worked a very specific defense against [Drews] in practice all week,” Kipp said. “We messed up a few times, but I think we overall did a really good job of executing that game plan.”
After the win against Utah, the Cardinal are now in a tie for second place in the Pac-12 standings with No. 10 Washington and No. 13 Oregon. Only No. 14 UCLA, who is 5-1 in conference play, boasts a better record.
Next up for Stanford women’s volleyball is a home match against Colorado on Sunday. First serve against the Buffaloes is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. PT.