STANFORD, Calif. - When the 2013 Stanford women’s volleyball team takes a look back on the season it just completed there is much to be proud of. Despite not reaching its ultimate goal of capturing the program’s seventh NCAA title, the Cardinal continued to showcase why it is one of the most dominant teams in the sport.
The 2013 postseason marked the 33rd consecutive year in which the Cardinal advanced to the NCAA Tournament, a feat accomplished by only one other team in the nation (Penn State). Stanford has won more NCAA Tournament matches (104) than any other Division I program and is tied with Penn State for the most NCAA championships (6).
Stanford (27-6) registered its 13th 20-win season under 13th-year head coach John Dunning and its 33rd overall. The Cardinal finished second in the Pac-12 Conference with a 17-3 mark, and did not lose to an opponent outside of the top-10 in the national rankings all season. Stanford, which was ranked in the top-10 all year long, came in at No. 5 in the final AVCA poll.
The Cardinal opened the 2013 campaign with sweeps at UC Santa Barbara and against Pacific before it headed to Austin, Texas for the prestigious Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic. The early season tests against top-10 foes didn’t go the Cardinal’s way as it fell in four sets to then-No. 8 Florida and then-No. 6 Texas. However, Stanford responded with its second longest winning streak of the season, posting eight straight wins, including six sweeps.
A trip to the nation’s capital highligheted the non-conference portion of the schedule. Getting a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience, Stanford faced Air Force, Yale and Army inside the Pentagon. While in Washington, D.C., Stanford made stops at the Lincoln Memorial, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and had dinner with a U.S. congressman. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a visit to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. After taking care of business on the court, Stanford capped off the roadtrip in West Point, N.Y., to watch the Cardinal football team defeat Army.
Conference play picked up in late September as the Cardinal opened with a four-set win at rival California and a sweep over then-No. 16 Arizona State. Stanford was crusing as it swept then-No. 16 UCLA in Los Angeles. A date with second-ranked USC at the Galen Center, where Stanford had suffered its only Pac-12 loss in 2012, was up next. The Cardinal was swept for the first time in almost two years and had to find a way to rebound.
The month of October wasn’t so kind to the Cardinal as it posted a 6-3 record and sat in third place in the conference standings. Turning the page, Stanford started November with a win over UCLA which sparked a season-best 12 match winning streak. The Cardinal leap-frogged USC in the conference standings and swept eventual Pac-12 Champion and then-No. 3 Washington in dominant fashion on The Farm. Dunning also reached a milestone in November, becoming just the fourth active Division I head coach to reach the 800-win plateau as Stanford swept Washington State at home on Nov. 22.
Stanford held a nine-match winning streak as it entered the postseason as the tournament’s overall No. 7 seed. The Cardinal swept its way to the regional final defeating Hampton and Oklahoma at home and No. 10 Minnesota in the semi-finals in Lexington, Ky. Stanford’s season would end in Lexington at the hands of the eventual national champion Penn State.
The Cardinal and Nittany Lions played in a match for the ages as every point was played at such a high level with passion and intensity. It was a physical battle at the net as the teams combined for 28 blocks in the NCAA championship-caliber match. Penn State came out on top in the fifth and final set despite Stanford outhitting the Nittany Lions .221 to .187.
When it was all said and done, Stanford players were recognized for their achievements on the court as the Cardinal secured a record five AVCA all-region and All-America awards. Senior middle blocker Carly Wopat was a repeat first team selection, while sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku joined her on the first team with her second career honor. It marked the first time since 2003 that a pair of middle blockers from the same team received first team accolades. Sophomore Madi Bugg, the 2013 Pac-12 Setter of the Year, was selected to the second team, while junior libero Kyle Gilbert and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Burgess were tabbed honorable mention. Adding in senior Rachel Williams’ 2011 honorable mention honors, six of the seven Cardinal starters were All-Americans.
Ajanaku, Burgess and Wopat were named to the 14-player All-Pac-12 Conference team, while Bugg, Williams and sophomore outside hitter Brittany Howard earned honorable mention. The Cardinal also received four Pac-12 Player of the Week honors during the season as Wopat was named Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week. Williams and Ajanaku were also Offensive Player of the Week selections, and the pair earned back-to-back AVCA National Player of the Week honors to close out the season.
Other statistical highlights of the year included Williams and Wopat becoming the first pair of Cardinal classmates since Foluke Akinradewo (2005-08) and Cynthia Barboza (2005-08) to each register 1,000 career kills. Wopat finishes her time on The Farm ranked second in career hitting percentage (.392) and third in blocks (614) and blocks per set (1.38). Gilbert also secured her place in the Cardinal record book, trying the school record for digs in a single match with 33 against USC on Oct. 30. Her 544 digs in 2013 was the third-best mark in a single season by a Cardinal player.
Looking ahead to 2014, the Cardinal will have four returning starters plus its libero back in the line-up. Despite having to fill the voids left by Williams and Wopat due to graduation, Stanford will have four returning All-Americans on its roster.