Down 24-23 after blowing out the Cal volleyball team in the first set, Stanford easily received Marlee Davis’s high-arcing serve and was able to get the ball to setter Madi Bugg. With two open hands, Bugg tapped the ball, placing it into the kill zone of middle blocker Inky Ajanaku. The Bears’ frontline, with their hands inches away from the ball, jumped at the shot, but they never stood a chance. Ajanaku spiked the ball to knot up the score at 24-24.
One error from middle blocker Lillian Schonewise and another kill from Ajanaku later, the Bears surrendered the second set. What was once a one-point lead quickly morphed into a 0-2 hole going into the locker room at the half.
In its Pac-12 season opener, Cal (8-3, 0-1) was on the losing end of a sweep, 16-25, 24-26, 16-25, at Maples Pavilion against the Cardinal.
In an away match against their conference rival and the No. 1 team in the country, the Bears were equal parts slow and sloppy to start the first set. They quickly found themselves facing a 1-7 deficit, with their only point coming off of an unforced error. The Cardinal found itself up by as much as 11 points thanks to good serving and pinpoint passing. With Stanford hitting at a .414 clip along with 17 kills, Cal was never really in the match during the first set.
“We didn’t execute or play our best,” said opposite hitter Christina Higgins. “We didn’t come together as a whole so maybe when our passing would be on, our hitting would be off, or when our hitting would be on, our passing would be off.”
The second set, however, told a much different story. Trailing 12-9 and on the brink of letting the set slip away from them once again, the Bears rallied to score six straight points off of excellent serving from libero Maddy Kerr.
“We just paid more attention to our side (and to) what we were doing,” said head coach Rich Feller. “We were able to understand the scouting report a little bit better — we blocked much more effectively and played better defense. We kind of forced them into making some errors, which is uncharacteristic of them, so I think we played a big part in making that happen by blocking and playing defense better.”
The strong serving led to easier possessions for Cal, allowing for increased kill opportunities as well as forced errors for Stanford. After the Bears took a 15-12 lead, Stanford came back to tie it up 17-17 on a string of strong offense. In seven possessions, the Cardinal scored five points, four of them coming off of kills.
The rest of the set went back and forth. Neither team went up by more than one until Stanford scored three in a row to give them the set, with none other than Ajanaku delivering the final blow. Stanford setter Bugg continued to set Ajanaku up all night long, with Ajanaku finishing the night with 14 kills.
Despite a strong showing in the second set, the Bears, much like in the first set, came out flat in the third. While Cal played stretches of solid volleyball, the team was never able to defend the fast-paced Stanford offense, and the lead ballooned to as much as 10 points.
“I think we did everything pretty well in game two,” Feller said. “Games one and three, I don’t think I could hang my hat on us being good at anything.”
Winston Cho covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho