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Women’s volleyball defeats Washington State in third straight sweep
Freshman setter Jenna Gray led the Cardinal with 36 assists and five blocks. She attributes her success to the new cohesiveness of the freshman class within the young Stanford roster. (AL CHANG/isiphotos.com)

Women’s volleyball defeats Washington State in third straight sweep

No. 17 Stanford women’s volleyball (14-6, 8-4 Pac-12) swept No. 18 Washington State (17-6, 7-4) at home on Friday, 25-18, 25-21, 25-21, adding to its wins against No. 25 USC (14-8, 6-5) on Sunday and No. 7 Washington (19-3, 9-3) on Wednesday to finish the week with three wins over ranked Pac-12 teams.

Freshman opposite Kathryn Plummer and fifth-year senior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku led Stanford’s attack. Plummer led both teams with 17 kills, one shy of her career high of 18, and also recorded seven digs and one block. Ajanaku had 10 kills on 17 attempts, hitting .529, her season high on 17 or more attempts. She also added three blocks.

The Cardinal were seeking revenge for the last time they faced the Cougars, when they were edged out in five sets on Sept. 30 playing at Washington State. Freshman setter Jenna Gray, who led both teams with 36 assists and five blocks, believes the difference in the result this time around can be attributed to the team’s focus on the mental side of the game, as well as the increased time the freshman-heavy roster has been playing together.

“We’ve talked a lot about volleyball IQ, finding our passion for the game and just going hard,” Gray said. “We’re really meshing a lot better now.”

Head coach John Dunning also credited changing up the lineup. In the past few games, there hasn’t been a consistent starting lineup, but rather different permutations of players every game — but now, even without one single obvious change, it seems that the current iteration of the lineup has found its groove.  

“We’ve had some injuries and things we’ve gone through and we ended up with the lineup we’re in now partly because of that … and it turned out to be really good for us,” Dunning said.

Both teams had short runs in the beginning of the first set, eventually tying it up 12-12. The Cardinal went ahead after that with two- and three-point runs due to strong attacks from the entire lineup, and although Washington State broke up the momentum every once in awhile with one- and two-point runs, it was not enough. Stanford went on to win the first set 25-18.

The Cardinal got an early lead in the second set, going up 6-5, and never trailed again in the set. Plummer had seven kills and redshirt junior middle blocker Merete Lutz had four for the Cardinal in the set, contributing to their eventual 25-21 victory.

Stanford tried to keep its momentum going into the third set but wavered slightly, hitting just .250 compared to .317 and .325 in the earlier sets, and giving up all three of their service errors of the match in the set.

Due in part to seven attack errors by Washington State and three kills in a row by Plummer, the Cardinal eventually went up 20-12. At that point, however, their attack stalled and Washington State fought hard, going on an 8-2 run to make it 22-20. The Cardinal then took a timeout and, although the Cougars managed to put up one more point, got some momentum back and finished the set 25-21 to win the match.

The victory was largely due to the four freshmen who started for the Cardinal: Plummer, Gray, Fitzmorris and defensive specialist Morgan Hentz. Fitzmorris had four blocks for the Cardinal, second to Gray, and Hentz led both teams with 16 digs.

“[The freshmen are] very experienced, they’re very talented,” Dunning said. “They have won a lot at other levels, so they came here with a lot. But you still have to experience college volleyball, you still have to get together with the other players … to figure out how we play, and it takes a while. Their talents have helped us play at a higher level even though we’re young, and now they’re continuing to figure out what it’s like and I think we have a chance to go up for a while now.”

Next up, the Cardinal look to extend their three-game winning streak as they take on Colorado in Boulder on Friday at 5 p.m. in the first matchup of a two-game road trip. The match will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.

Contact Kylie Callan at kcallan ‘at’ stanford.edu.