Olympic Sports Update: Conference Play Begins

Hath been a while since the Bootleg has checked in on the non-football fall sports (well, if you don't count the John Dunning Q&A), so let's see what the dealio is on volleyball, soccer and field hockey as conference play gets underway. Again, until I get to see water polo or cross country on TV or in person, there won't be any updates of those sports.

Women's Volleyball: 10-2 (2-0 Pac-12), No. 7 in AVCA Coaches Top 25
The 411: For the first time in five tries, the Dunning Gang got one over on that team from the East Bay. They did it in impressive fashion as well, sweeping the Golden Bears without too much of a sweat with the exception of the third set (the games went 25-17, 25-17, 28-26). You can almost always tell the story of the match by looking at hitting percentages, and this one was no exception- Stanford hit a whopping .385 while holding Cal to a pedestrian .185. The Cardinal blocking up front had a lot to do with that, roofing 11 Cal swings, led by the six block assists of Carly Wopat. Jordan Burgess had a double-double with 16 kills and 13 digs, while Madi Bugg had 50 assists. To put that assist total in perspective, that's 16.67 assists per set. The national leader in assists per set, Lauren Plum of Oregon, averages 13.09 per set. In other words, 50 assists over three sets is pretty damn good.

The Cardinal then headed on over to the Huntsman Center and took care of the Utes in four sets, but not before a huge fight put up by the home squad. Though the Card won the match, Utah actually scored more points throughout the four sets (95 for Utah, 94 for Stanford). The Utes are 0-2 in conference and probably won't be headed to the NCAA Tournament, but they are fourth in the nation in blocking, and it really showed in the first set.

Keep an eye on: Freshman outside hitter Jordan Burgess, who was just named Pac-12 Freshman and Defensive Player of the Week. Yes, DEFENSIVE player of the week… as an attacker. Coach Dunning said in the Q&A about how good of a reactive athlete she is, and that's the probably the No. 1 trait you need to be an excellent digger, especially if you are taller than six feet like Burgess.  She averaged more than four kills and four digs per set in the victories over Cal and Utah, and is second in both categories for the season.

On deck: The Arizona schools on the road. Both the Sun Devils and Wildcats are 1-1 on the young conference season and neither are ranked. Conventional wisdom says the Cardinal should head back to Maples with a 4-0 Pac-12 record. While No. 2 Oregon (yes, the Ducks are ranked second in volleyball, too) shouldn't face much of a test against the Mountain schools, No. 5 Washington hosts the LA schools (both the Bruins and Trojans are ranked in the top 5), so Stanford has a good chance of being one of just two teams undefeated in conference through two weekends.
Interesting fact: The Pac-12 has five schools ranked in the top 7 (Oregon 2, USC 3, UCLA 4, Washington 5, Stanford 7) and no other schools in the top 25. The Big Ten leads all conferences with seven schools in the top 25.

Women's Soccer: 7-1-1 (1-0-0 Pac-12), No. 2 in NSCAA Coaches Top 25
The 411: At long last, the Stanford Cardinal women's soccer team finally lost a regular season game one month ago in a 1-0 loss to West Virginia despite outshooting the Mountaineers 17-7. The loss snapped a 25-match winning streak for Ratcliffe's Crew and was the first regular season loss since Halloween of 2008 (a span of 64 matches without a loss in the regular season). Assistant coach Jay Cooney told me it was almost a relief to lose since the team no longer had the pressure of the streak on them (I interviewed him last Friday, but lost my voice recorder. Still pissed about that). The team has looked pretty solid since, not allowing a goal in the month of September and scoring 15 of their own over five matches. That's a scoreless streak of 503 minutes and 19 seconds The Card knocked off Arizona State 3-0 in their Pac-12 opener thanks to a dominant second half performance (Stanford scored all three in the second half) in true Stanford women's soccer fashion.

Keep an eye on: Senior centerback Alina Garciamendez. The calming presence in the back has seen an uptick in offense this year, scoring three goals already in 2012 after scoring twice in her previous three years combined. Like Mariah Nogueira, she is a very good aerial player. More important than that, however, is the way she controls the back line, not allowing much of anything past her along with other defenders Kendall Romine, Madeleine Thompson, Rachel Quon and the like.

On deck: The Oregon schools, starting with Oregon State tonight at 6pm. Keep yourself busy during halftime by switching over to the Pac-12 Networks for this one. The Beavers are always a team that finishes near the top of the conference, so this should be a very good showdown. Oregon State is 9-1-0 and 1-0-0 in conference play (the Beavers beat Utah 2-0 in their Pac-12 opener), while also being ranked 23rd in the nation. Oregon isn't nearly as good as its in-state rival, but the Ducks are still a top-60 RPI team, having beat top-50 RPI UC Irvine.
Interesting Fact: Stanford held an opponent without a shot or corner kick for the first time in school history when it beat UNC Greensboro 4-0 down in Santa Clara. Essentially, that's a perfect game.

Men's Soccer: 3-4-0 (0-0-0 Pac-12)
The 411: The Cardinal men's soccer squad has played in three consecutive 2-1 games, two of them going to overtime, one of them a Cardinal victory. The common theme in those three games? Stanford grossly out-shot the opponent to the tune of 73-27; this is not Bret Simon's team anymore, and that much is evident, as the 2012-13 side is a lot more aggressive. However, the Cardinal have come up on the short end of the stick more often than not thanks to a couple of unlucky bounces and an inability to finish the multitude of chances they get each game.
Keep an eye on: Freshman midfielder Aaron Kovar, who has four goals in six games if you count the preseason. He is a very creative midfielder who shows off good footwork and a lot of flair. He has not played in three of the team's seven regular season matches, but look for him to become more of a regular as the season progresses.

On deck: Pac-12 play begins with No. 9 UCLA (5-1-2), which absolutely murdered Stanford the last time these two teams played. It happened to be Stanford's Senior Day last year, and UCLA won 3-0 in a match that left the Cardinal frustrated. However, this year's team has a bit more spunk to it, and I expect Friday's contest to be considerably closer. I don't think it's unrealistic to say that Stanford has a shot in this one. Although the Cardinal have lost their last two matches to Santa Clara and LMU, neither side all that good, they have shown that they can create the chances necessary to get a result. It's all about finishing.

After UCLA, the Cardinal host San Diego State on Sunday afternoon for a 2:30pm start. No game is easy in the Pac.
Interesting fact: The Cardinal have already played in three overtime matches, all of them being 2-1 games, with Stanford 1-2-0 in those contests. The last time Stanford played in more overtime games in a season was in 2009, when Stanford had five go beyond 90 minutes. That was also the last year Stanford reached the NCAA tournament, advancing to the round of 16 with victories over Saint Mary's and UC Irvine before falling at powerhouse Akron.

Field Hockey: 6-4 (0-0 NorPac); No. 13 in NFHCA Coaches Top 25
The 411: After a 1-3 start to the season that included one-goal losses to then-No. 1 Maryland and now-No.10 Northwestern, Tara's Team got back on track with a five-game winning streak before losing to then-No. 1 North Carolina 6-2. Included in that five-game streak were wins against ranked opponents Iowa and Drexel, both of which are currently in the top 20.
Keep an eye on: Sophomore Kelsey Harbin and freshman Maddie Secco, both of whom are returning from the Junior Pan American Championships held in Guadalajara (Harbin played for America, while Secco played for America Jr.- just kidding, Canada. No disrespect, maple leafs!). Coach Tara Danielson certainly could have used the two of them in the North Carolina game, as both provide a nice punch on the attack. Through seven games, Harbin and Secco have combined for four goals and two assists (two goals and an assist for each). In fact, the players' stats mirror each other. In addition to the goals and assists, both Harbin and Secco have attempted 17 shots, 12 of which have been on target. The only differences are that Harbin's two goals are game-winners and she also has a defensive save to her name.

On deck: The NorPac opener against Cal in Berkeley. The Golden Bears have struggled out of the gate with a 3-4 start. All four of their losses have been by one goal, three of them to ranked opponents (Maryland, Northwestern and Drexel) and two of them in overtime (Drexel and Indiana). Stanford won both regular season contests against Cal last year before falling in the NorPac Tournament Championship game to the Golden Bears 1-0.
Interesting Fact: The NorPac added a ninth team to the conference this season by gobbling up Liberty. Stanford's connection to Liberty? Sarah Boruta, who was the video coordinator for Tara VanDerveer for a few years before accepting a job with the Flames' women's basketball program as the Director of Operations, or D-Ops in college basketball lingo.
Another conference member, Longwood, which had been a D-I independent for five years, found a home for its other sports in the Big South. Their AD Troy Austin retweeted me once(*cough* @kevo408 *cough*) and it made my weekend.


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