The No. 1 seed Stanford women’s volleyball team (28-3, 19-1 Pac-12) defeated Fresno State (19-14, 10-8 Mountain West) in straight sets on Friday evening at Maples.
The first game of the NCAA Tournament for both teams, the first set saw the Bulldogs and Cardinal finding their footing. Kills from redshirt senior outside hitter Caitie Baird, redshirt senior middle blocker McKenna Vicini and sophomore outside hitter Elia Rubin kicked off the set, but Fresno State quickly matched Stanford point for point, eventually taking a small lead. A sneaky kill by Rubin left the crowd cheering and the score tied at 9-9.
Fifth-year opposite Kendall Kipp slammed down another point to tie the game at 13-13, and junior middle blocker Sami Francis followed suit with another attack for 14-14. Junior setter Kami Miner’s sneaky two-handed slam and Rubin’s well-executed tip pushed the Cardinal lead ahead.
Senior libero Elena Oglivie’s dig kicked Stanford’s lead up to 23-21, eliciting applause. With two attack errors from Fresno State, set one concluded with a 25-21 win for the Cardinal.
“The first match of the tournament is always tough,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “The first set is incredibly tough finding your rhythm … and then we settled in and played Stanford volleyball.”
Coming back from the set one victory, Stanford held the Bulldogs to a .031 hitting percentage. An ace by Baird left Maples roaring, and a double block by Baird and Francis kept the Fresno State offense at bay. Stanford didn’t hold back on its offense: Baird slammed the end to a Bulldogs rally for Stanford’s 12th point, and from Miner to Vicini to the hardwood, the Cardinal’s skillful ball control pushed their lead to 16-9.
Kills from Kipp, Rubin, Francis and Baird prepped the Stanford win — and another two errors from Fresno State left the Cardinal at a 13-point lead, a 25-12 victory.
“They were scrappy and they tested us at times, so it was good to just stay together. Used what we did in practice this week to really put it to them a little bit,” Baird said.
Stanford was on a roll. Hitting at a .500 percentage, the Cardinal returned to set three with their eyes on the sweep. Back-to-back kills from Baird got the crowd roaring, and Vicini’s block gave another defensive point to Stanford.
Kills from Rubin, Francis, Vicini and Baird pushed Stanford into a 7-point lead. Oglivie kept the Bulldogs on their toes, keeping the ball in play until Vicini slammed it down.
A sub by Stanford brought freshman outside hitter Julia Blyashov onto the court, and with her came another three points for Stanford. A kill by Blyashov left the crowd aroar and the score at 23-12.
Sophomore setter Kelly Belardi and freshman opposite Jordyn Harvey entered the game and quickly slammed another point for Stanford to make the score 24-14. One service error from Stanford was followed by one from the Bulldogs, closing the game with a 25-15 win for Stanford.
“It’s tourney time and we all understand what that means,” Oglivie said. “I think we have to take every game seriously, every point seriously, and I think we did that especially towards the end.
The next day, Stanford defeated No. 8 Houston (19-10, 11-7 Big 12) in five sets to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Cardinal outmatched the Cougars in the first two sets, winning by ten and five respectively. Houston won both of the following two sets 25-22, leaving set five to decide the winner. But Stanford picked it back up in the fifth set, winning 15-7.
The win sent the Cardinal to the Sweet Sixteen, its 20th time since 1998.
Stanford had a season-high of 78 kills and hit a .401 with 12 blocks, 60 digs and 4 aces. The game saw Rubin’s career-high of 23 kills and record .415 for the match with 12 digs, for her 12th double-double of the season.
Oglivie recorded the match-best 19 digs and contributed five assists throughout the match. Baird delivered an impressive performance with 16 kills on a hitting percentage of .412, along with five digs, three assists and a block. Kipp also marked 16 kills and contributed eight digs, six blocks and an ace.
Middle blockers Francis and Vicini played powerfully to push Stanford to a win. Francis hit .588 with 12 kills, four blocks and three digs, and Vicini added her match-high eight blocks with eight kills, hitting an impressive .500. And sophomore defense specialist Anna Pringle secured an ace during the crucial fifth set, pushing the Cardinal to an early 4-1 lead.
The second round win pushes the Cardinal into the regional semifinals. Stanford will play Arizona State on Dec. 7 in Maples Pavilion. The game is set to start at 8:30 p.m. PT.