The NCAA women’s volleyball regional final at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion has instant classic written all over it, with the two best teams of all-time taking to the floor at 7 p.m. Saturday to determine one of the spots in the Final Four in Minnesota on Dec. 14 and 15.
Top-ranked and overall No. 1 seed Stanford survived a slugfest with visiting Washington State, 25-17, 24-26, 25-14, 25-19, on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight. No. 8 Penn State swept Washington, 26-24, 25-21, 25-21 and both matches were tighter than the scores indicate.
Kate Formico/Mike Rasay
The Cardinal (31-1) and Washington State (23-10) combined for 30 1/2 team blocks and 127 digs, making for a terrific swing-a-thon that resulted in sustained rallies, excellent performances from the liberoes and physicality at the net.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “They made us earn everything the whole way.”
Both teams delivered a clinic in blocking, worthy of the top two blocking teams in the Pac-12 (Stanford leads the nation).
“I wanted to find ways to open it up for other options on the outside,” Cardinal senior middle blocker Tami Alade said. “I wanted to get up as far as possible.”
Alade recorded 12 kills and hit a game-best .632, complementing her team-high nine blocks, including two solo. She allowed junior Kathryn Plummer to do her thing to the tune of 24 kills, though she needed 60 swings to do so.
“We knew they would block big,” Plummer said. “This was one of our better covering matches. We had to do that and just keep swinging. We did a good job of helping and that kept the middle open.”
Plummer (12 digs), Meghan McClure, who had 11 digs and seven kills, and libero Morgan Hentz (25 digs) were keys to covering and keeping rallies alive.
Washington State’s Taylor Mims comes as close as anyone to hitting as hard and fierce as Plummer. She had 17 kills on 52 swings and added 10 digs. Cougars’ libero Alexis Dirige recorded 21 digs.
Holly Campbell contributed 10 kills and hit .421, Audriana Fitzmorris added 11 kills, Sydney Wilson recorded three aces while Jenna Gray had 52 assists. Gray and Kate Formico each added seven digs.
Stanford and Penn State have met three times for a national title. The Nittany Lions have won all three meetings, the latest in 2008. They’ve combined for 14 national titles and 11 runner-ups.
The teams have played 22 times overall, with Penn State winning 12 of those. Stanford won the most recent meeting, at Maples Pavilion earlier this season.
“There’s kind of a history with Penn State and Stanford,” Plummer said. “We’re excited to play them. When we saw the bracket for the first time we thought it would be fun to play them. They’ve played in this gym before and they are playing well at the end of the season.”
Hambly, who spent 10 years at Illinois before heading west, has a 5-11 record as coach against Penn State and its coach, Russ Rose, who won his 101st NCAA match Friday night.
“We know each other real well,” Hambly said. “It’s a good thing Russ and I won’t be on the floor playing. It’s about how the players perform and execute.”