Dec. 30, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Despite an early exit from the postseason, the 2011 Stanford women's volleyball team has much to be proud of at the conclusion of the collegiate season. The Cardinal (22-8) posted its 11th straight 20-win campaign under 11th-year head coach John Dunning.
Stanford finished tied for fourth in the newly formed Pac-12 Conference with a 15-7 mark in league games. The team made its 31st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearnace, one of only two schools in the nation to advance to the postseason all 31 years, and finished with a No. 14 national ranking.
The Cardinal opened the season with a perfect 6-0 record in preseason matches. It marked the second straight year Stanford accomplished that feat. The preseason included three wins over ranked opponenets and four victories over squads who would appear in the postseason.
After sweeping Delaware and Rice in Houston, Texas during the opening weekend, the Cardinal posted four-set wins over Notre Dame and No. 18 Duke at the Stanford Invitational. The Cardinal closed out the preseason by capturing its second straight Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic tournament title. Stanford posted wins over No. 2 Penn State, its second win over the Nittany Lions in as many seasons, and No. 7 Florida. Junior Karissa Cook, the MVP of the Rice Invitational, and sophomore Carly Wopat earned all-tournament honors, while sophomore Rachel Williams was tabbed the tournament's MVP.
Stanford hit its first speed bump of the season, opening Pac-12 Conference play at No. 1 California just three days after the conclusion of its preseason. The Golden Bears posted a four-set win over the Cardinal and won the battle of No. 1 versus No. 2 in the nation. Stanford hit just .103 as a team in the match, its lowest total of the year.
Stanford returned to Maples Pavilion that weekend to play host to conference newcomers Utah and Colorado. The Cardinal swept both teams as Williams led the way with 32 kills and 22 digs in the contests. Wopat added 19 kills and 11 blocks against the Buffaloes and Utes.
However, before the Cardinal could get comfortable it ran into two traditional powerhouses which were on a mission this season. Stanford dropped a five-set thriller at No. 7 UCLA, the eventual NCAA national champions, and was swept at No. 12 USC, a 2011 Final Four participant.
Stanford went back to the drawing board, and under the guidance of Dunning, reeled off nine straight victories - its longest winning streak of the season. During that stretch, the Cardinal swept the season series against the Arizona schools and posted wins over No. 2 Washington, No. 4 USC and No. 15 Oregon. Following the matches against the Washington schools, Cook earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and nabbed the AVCA National Player of the Week honors. She averaged 11.00 assists, 3.17 digs and 1.00 kills per set in the two contests.
Unfortunately, the sweep over the fourth-ranked Trojans on Oct. 28, which capped the nine-match win streak, would be the last win over a ranked opponent for the Cardinal in 2011. Stanford would close out the Pac-12 season with a .500 record (4-4).
Despite the lull, it was time to wipe the slate clean and prepare for the postseason. Stanford earned the No. 11 overall seed in the tournament and was scheduled to host the first and second rounds at Maples Pavilion.
The Cardinal drew Sacred Heart, the champions of the Northeast Conference, in the opening round match. Stanford knocked off the Pioneers in four sets to advance to face No. 22 Michigan in the second round. Wopat stole the show against Sacred Heart, registering a career high 13 blocks to go with nine kills. Williams led all players with 18 kills and 11 digs on a .350 attack percentage. Stanford has now won all 31 of its opening round matches in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, the win over the Pioneers would be the last for the Cardinal in 2011 as it dropped a four-set second round match to Michigan the next day.
Stanford, ranked preseason No. 6, remained in the top-10 of the AVCA poll all season until the final poll on Dec. 20. The Cardinal was 14-0 when hitting .250 or better in matchs, but just 8-8 when hitting under the .250 mark. Stanford was 21-1 when it posted a higher hitting percentage than its opponents.
As a team, the Cardinal finished the year among the top-50 in the nation in several statistical categories, including leading the nation in blocks per set (3.18). Stanford was 20th in assists (13.23), 36th in kills (13.93), 38th in hitting percentage (.248) and 48th in digs (16.81).
Stanford led the Pac-12 in blocks and digs as a team, while ranking fourth in assists and fifth in kills and hitting percentage. Individually, Wopat led the conference in blocks (1.63) and ranked fourth overall in hitting percentage (.383). Williams was fifth in the Pac-12 in kills (4.32) and poinst (4.96), while Cook ranked fourth in assists (11.32). Williams and Cook led the Pac-12 with 20 double-doubles apiece in 2011.
Williams and Wopat, who earned All-Pac-12 Conference honors, were tabbed honorable mention AVCA All-Americans. Cook garnered All-Pac-12 honorable mention accolades, while redshirt freshman Lydia Bai was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshmen team.
Academically, senior Stephanie Browne earned Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. She was also selected to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team. Joining Browne with academic all-conference accolades were Bai, Cook, Williams, junior Hannah Benjamin and sophomore Mary Ellen Luck.
Dunning wrapped up his 26th season as a head coach by being one of three honorees inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame in mid-December. He boasts a 748-159 (.825) overall record and a 311-57 (.845) mark in his 11 seasons on The Farm. He's won four NCAA titles (two at Stanford) and captured 12 conference championships, including six with the Cardinal. He is the winningest active coach in the Pac-12 in terms of not only career winning percentage, but winning percentage in Pac-12 matches.
The team now says good-bye to its two seniors, Browne and Katherine Sebastian, but looks forward to building on its successes from this season. The Cardinal return 12 players for 2012, including eight upperclassmen. The experiences gained by Stanford this season will undoubtedly help them on the court next year.
In the end, the 2011 Cardinal upheld the tradition of a program that has won more NCAA titles, holds more NCAA Tournament wins, more Final Four appearances, more national championship matches and more conference titles than any other team in the country.