Despite only claiming third position in the Pac-12 Tournament, No. 9 Stanford (29-13, 3-4 Pac 12) was granted a place in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. The Cardinal impressed in their first match with a 3-2 win against No. 6 Grand Canyon University (26-8, 0-0 CCSA), but their run was cut short after falling to No. 2 TCU (37-3, 5-0 CCSA) in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Stanford had confidence heading into the first round of the tournament, especially considering that it was set to play GCU, whom the Cardinal had beaten 4-1 in the regular season. Juniors Emmy Sharp and Kate Reilly set the tone early, winning their duel 21-17, 21-17. However, this momentum didn’t last as Pac-12 first team members junior Xolani Hodel and senior Maddi Kritz narrowly lost 22-20, 22-20 to a strong GCU pair. Junior Maya Harvey and fifth-year Charlie Ekstrom also felt the heat in Alabama, losing a back and forth contest 13-21, 21-12, 15-9.
Regardless of these losses, the Cardinal showed their resilience and determination as the new pairing of sophomore Taylor Wilson and freshman Daria Gusarova clinched a three-set victory to draw the teams even. All attention turned to court four as the phenomenal freshman duo of Kelly Belardi and Ashley Vincent battled to secure Stanford’s first-ever win at an NCAA tournament. With the rest of the team watching eagerly from the sidelines, Belardi and Vincent pulled off a magnificent victory, catapulting the Cardinal into the NCAA quarterfinals. Not only did this mark a milestone in the program’s history, but it also marked this pairing’s 28th victory this year, cementing its position in the record books for the most wins in a single season in school history.
On Saturday, Stanford faced off against TCU in the quarterfinals. Despite their best efforts, the Cardinal were unable to secure a win, losing all three matches to the Horned Frogs. Sharp and Reilly, though successful on day one, were defeated in two sets. Hodel and Kriz faced off in another close game, losing 21-18, 21-17 this time. Wilson and Gusarova, paired for just the third time this season, put up a strong fight against TCU, stretching the match to three after dominating set two. The scores came out to 14–21, 21-12 and 15-12. The remaining pairings, Harvey/Ekstrom and Belardi/Vincent, didn’t finish their games due to their teammates finishing before them.
While this marks the end of the season for Stanford, it will go down in program history for breaking records. The Cardinal went 29-12 on the season, good for the best record in team history. Vincent won 31 times this year, setting the record for the most wins by an individual within the season. Ekstrom finished her time as a Stanford athlete this weekend, having won an impressive 82 games as a Cardinal. Overall, it was a phenomenal season for Stanford Beach Volleyball.