Stanford might have played its best match of the season when it mattered most. Thursday night before a sellout crowd at Target Arena in Minneapolis, the No. 1-ranked Cardinal out-served, out-dug and definitely out-blocked BYU in rolling to a 25-15, 25-15, 25-18 sweep in the first Division I semifinal.
“The effort we had on defense was as good as we had all year,” said Stanford coach Kevin Hambly.
“I think we all know that wasn’t the team we saw throughout the year,” said Hambly about BYU. “For whatever reason, nerves or whatever, their first time being in the Final Four, I think we had a huge advantage having been here the last couple years.”
The win avenged Stanford’s only loss of the season to the Cougars and extended its winning streak to 31 straight matches.
The match turned in Stanford’s favor midway through the first set, when the Cardinal block helped the top-ranked team overcome an early deficit. After Kathryn Plummer sided out with power to knot the set at 13-13, setter Jenna Gray stepped behind the line and served nine straight points as Stanford opened up an insurmountable lead and cruised, 25-15.
The second set turned on a smart challenge by Stanford coach Hambly. With the Cardinal leading 13-10, Roni Jones-Perry thought she had a kill off of Stanford’s mighty block. But Hambly correctly detected that the ball had hit a BYU player before going out of bounds. Rather than being down two, the Cougars were down by double that. A Plummer ace and Tami Alade kill, her only kill of the night, followed and the lead, 16-10, was formidable once more. There was no coming back from that big of a deficit for BYU, which had trouble both getting past Stanford’s block and getting a ball past Cardinal libero Morgan Hentz.
The third set was close early but turned around midway through on the blocking of Alade, the nation’s leader in blocks per set. Alade finished the match with an astounding 14 total blocks, including three in a 6-0 run that effectively finished off the Cougars.
“They’ve got a great block,” said BYU’s All-America senior OH Roni Jones-Perry. “It was tough. They did a really nice job.”
“The mantra going through my head was, ‘Fight for your right to play with this team as long as possible,” said Alade. “I think we did that because we get to play in the last possible game we have for the season. So I’m really excited we were able to finish where we wanted. But I think the cherry on the cake would be to win the
Plummer led Stanford with a match-high 12 kills but RS Audriana Fitzmorris was equally effective, as she paired 11 kills on 24 swings with nine blocks. The Cardinal as a team out-blocked BYU 17-4. Hentz finished with a match-high 20 digs, 10 more than anyone else on either team. It was a total team win for the Cardinal, a match they dominated virtually from start to finish.
Jones-Perry, playing the last match of a great career for BYU, led the way for the Cougars with eight kills and nine digs. But she hit negative for the night, as did the team as a whole, a testament to the Cardinal defense, which ruled the night.