No. 11 Stanford women’s volleyball (4-2, 0-0 Pac-12) hit the road this weekend, recording a win and a loss at the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge in Minneapolis, Minn. Despite a hard-fought performance against No. 20 Penn State (8-0, 0-0 Big 10) on Friday, the team came up short in a tight five-set match. But the Cardinal made up for the loss on Saturday, felling No. 3 Minnesota (4-2, 0-0 Big Ten) for their biggest upset of the young season.
Stanford went into Friday’s match looking to return to its winning ways after being swept by No. 1 Texas (6-0, 0-0 Big 12) at Maples Pavilion on Sept. 4.
The Nittany Lions played aggressively from the first serve, taking an early lead in set one. The Cardinal struggled in the face of their opponents’ consistent blocking, recording a team attack percentage of just .129 in comparison to Penn State’s dominant .478.
With the Nittany Lions leading 23-13, Stanford senior opposite Kendall Kipp came soaring out of the back row and placed a ball deep in the right corner. Her kill heralded the start of what would be a season-high outing for Kipp — she would finish with 20 kills and 10 digs — but Penn State comfortably closed out the set a few points later, 25-16.
The Cardinal got off to an early 11-7 lead in set two. But any breathing room was quickly extinguished, as Penn State came rushing back to tie the match at 11. This dead heat would be a trend for the rest of the match; at 29 different points throughout, the score was tied. However, the Nittany Lions persisted to wrap up the set 25-22.
Though down two sets to none, Stanford was warmed up and ready to respond. The team avenged Penn State’s comfortable win in set one by handily claiming the third set 25-17. A more competitive fourth set followed but the Cardinal held on, with Kipp tooling the block on set point for a 25-23 win.
“We weren’t mentally and emotionally prepared in those first two sets,” head coach Kevin Hambly said, emphasizing that the adjustments which led to his team’s comeback in sets three and four were largely mental ones.
A fifth set nailbiter followed, with the board showing tied scores no less than seven times. But the Nittany Lions gained a delicate lead at 10-8, one they never relinquished, to take the set 15-11 and the match.
In addition to Kipp’s double-double, redshirt junior outside Caitie Baird also turned in a strong performance, with 17 kills and seven digs. Sophomore setter Kami Miner and junior libero Elena Oglivie had season highs in assists and digs, respectively.
Shaking off fatigue and disappointment from the previous night, Stanford once again found itself in a tight battle on Saturday, this time against Minnesota.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, Kipp picked up right where she had left off on Friday. She followed up an ace by Miner with back-to-back kills to help Stanford pull ahead 22-19. Freshman outside Elia Rubin sealed the set with a kill of her own, 25-20.
“They run an incredibly fast offense,” Hambly said of Minnesota. “…[W]e did a nice job serving, and when you serve, you get them off the net and they can’t run that fast offense.”
This strategy was critical, according to Hambly. “But the team has to execute it, of course,” he said. “And they did a nice job.”
The Cardinal raced out to a 6-1 lead in set two, and an early Gopher timeout did little to faze them. Baird contributed a pair of consecutive kills to stretch Stanford’s advantage to 12-6. With Miner running a varied offense, Stanford won the set 25-18 and took a 2-0 lead overall.
All of the pieces, both offensive and defensive, looked to be clicking.
Minnesota was not quite ready to surrender as the match entered the third set. They took advantage of Cardinal errors and their own top-ranked offense, went on an 8-0 run right as Stanford was about to take a commanding lead and eventually claimed the set, 25-22.
But the Cardinal made their intentions clear in set four with an early 6-0 run to lead 12-4. Kills by Kipp, Rubin and redshirt junior middle blocker McKenna Vicini, in tandem with mounting Gopher errors, allowed Stanford to pull away. They won the set in dominant fashion, 25-12, to complete the upset 3-1. It seemed only fitting that Kipp got the last kill, to give her a total of 37 on the weekend.
Hambly praised Kipp, along with Baird and Vicini, as leaders throughout the two matches, but thought his whole team worked well together to come back from Friday’s loss.
“I think it was definitely a group effort,” he said. “And it was definitely all of them kind of holding each other to the accountability piece and making sure that they brought what they needed to tonight to be successful.”
Stanford stays on the road for their next matchup against No. 2 Nebraska (7-0, 0-0 Big Ten). First serve is scheduled for 5 p.m. PT.