There was actually reason to be a little nervous in the early going Saturday night at Maples. Stanford had gone a shocking four games to Utah the previous night, and was trailing Texas A&M midway through the first game in the NCAA Regional Finals match. But then, reality set in. In what proved to be the turning point of the entire match, the Cardinal roared back from a 12-16 deficit to a 24-17 lead in the blink of an eye. Remembering that this is rally scoring these days, that run is all the more incredible.
But when Robyn Lewis is digging out every imaginable shot, Tara Conrad and Sarah McGee are rejecting every Aggie offering, and Logan Tom is skywalking... what else did you expect?
After that run, the Card crushed their way to a 3-0 win, by scores of 30-21, 30-19 and 30-20. The second game was never in doubt, with an early 3-0 lead widening steadily. Game three was surprisingly easy, given that Logan Tom was quiet through much of the game, yet there was no discernable drop-off in production. A&M gave up a lot of points with carries, mishits and encounters with the nets. In a word, they were broken.
Point of the match was one of a few extending and thrilling rallies, but this one was a back-breaker for the Aggies. Twice balls where deflected deep behind the backline on the Stanford side, and twice Robyn Lewis made incredible diving saves to bring the ball back to the frontcourt. A&M dug out some Stanford spikes as well, but it was finally a resounding block on Stanford's right side that sent the ball to the hardwood and Maples Maniacs to their feet with a roar.
Just a few feet to my right, Robyn's brother Chris was grinning ear-to-ear while he clapped and yelled. Football fans will be interested to know that he was sitting with elite quarterback recruit, Trent Edwards.
Logan Tom had her finest game in the opening stanza, landing 9 of her game-high 20 kills. A&M played much better than Utah the previous night, which made for a less impressive statistical night. Kills were tough to come by, and the hitting percentage was lower. But the defensive performance was very strong. Tom ran away with the Regional MVP award, while Tara Conrad, Robyn Lewis and Sara McGee landed three of the five other All-Regional spots. Logan and Sara led all players with lofty .450 and .455 hitting percentages, respectively.
I also thought the serving was very strong from Stanford tonight. Almost completely error-free, with several service aces. Logan's jump-serve was blistering, though I was equally impressed at how well A&M's backcourt kept the ball in play.
Up next for the Cardinal is #2 seeded Nebraska in the semifinals, to be played Thursday in San Diego. Nebraska squeaked by Florida in Lincoln earlier in the evening: 3-2 and 15-13 in the final game. #1 seed Long Beach State will play Arizona in the other semifinal. Arizona advanced Friday after upseting #4 seed U$C in 5 games in LA. ESPN and ESPN2 will carry both semifinal matches on Friday on tape delay. The Championship match will be televised live on ESPN2 on Saturday the 15th.