No. 9 Stanford women’s volleyball (5-3, 0-0 Pac-12) closed out a challenging pre-conference schedule on Saturday night, hosting No. 3 Louisville (9-1, 0-0 ACC) in Maples Pavilion. After handing out two major upsets in their previous two games, the Cardinal came up short against Louisville, falling in four sets.
It marked the pair’s first ever meeting, even though the Kentuckians have steadily become a volleyball powerhouse and even reached the NCAA tournament final four in 2021.
The Cardinal and their ACC foes looked evenly matched from the start. When Louisville went on a run, Stanford responded with one of its own, making the set tight from start to finish.
Both Stanford head coach Kevin Hambly and his Louisville counterpart, Dani Busboom Kelly, utilized timeouts as the set stretched on. But even with back-to-back kills from freshman outside Elia Rubin, Hambly’s team found themselves gradually outplayed and facing two match points. Though Stanford saved both, Louisville ultimately claimed the set 26-24.
Continuing into the second set, Louisville soon found a small lead and defended it. Stanford again made things difficult for their opponents in the closing rallies, but as in set one, Louisville overpowered them to clinch the set 27-25.
Down two sets to none, Stanford found itself in an eerily similar situation to their home opener a fortnight prior. This was only the team’s second match at home and in their first, No. 1 Texas (8-0, 0-0 Big 12) comfortably handed them their first loss of the season in straight sets.
Determined to turn the match around, Stanford found an early advantage in the third set and successfully fended off Louisville’s attempts at a sweep. They tightened up their passing and went on a 7-1 scoring run to lead 18-9. Kills from Rubin, redshirt junior outside Caitie Baird and senior opposite Kendall Kipp helped give Stanford the breathing room it needed to decisively pull away. A pair of kills from Kipp brought on set point, and Baird converted it moments later with a kill of her own, 25-14.
Louisville promptly turned the tables in set four, capitalizing on Stanford errors and their own offensive prowess to race out to a 14-5 lead. The Cardinal’s opportunities were fading quickly, as Stanford could not seem to find the level of play with which it had forced a fourth set. Led by opposite Aiko Jones and outside Claire Chaussee, Louisville took the set 25-13 and the match 3-1. Execution had been the decider, with Louisville hitting .438 in set four while holding Stanford to just .067.
“We have been talking a lot about our fight and playing with a chip on our shoulder, especially when we’re playing away in these super packed gyms,” said sophomore setter Kami Miner, who led her team with 35 assists. “And so for us, it’s all about finding that same fight and consistency and execution when we’re at home, instead of being more comfortable in our own gym.”
Miner’s offense featured Kipp, who recorded a team-high 15 kills, while Baird had 12 kills and Rubin finished with 11. Defensively, Stanford was led by junior libero Elena Oglivie’s 16 digs, and redshirt junior middle blocker McKenna Vicini’s six blocks.
Stanford’s notoriously tough schedule continues over the coming months, and Hambly himself does not shy away from labeling it the second most difficult schedule in the country. But he is thinking further down the line.
“Our goal in the schedule is to put ourselves in a situation to host,” Hambly said, referring to the post-season possibility of home-court advantage if Stanford maintains a high ranking.
“[T]he most important thing for us is that we’ve seen the teams that we need to get through to win the [NCAA] tournament,” he said. “And it will give us the opportunity to work on the things that we need to.”
Stanford will begin its 2022 conference campaign in earnest on Sept. 21, with a road matchup against California (7-3, 0-0 Pac-12) to open Pac-12 play. First serve is scheduled for 8 p.m.
“I think for us, it’ll be another chance to play on the road,” Miner said. “Of course, it’s a rivalry game, so we always are super excited for that.”