Volleyball Sweeps NCAA Opener

Stanford versus Sacramento State Saturday night at Maples Pavilion was the last of 32 first-round games in the 2006 women's volleyball NCAA Tournament. The overall #2-seeded Cardinal cruised through the first two games with gaudy hitting numbers and defense before a more tightly fought third in the 3-0 sweep of the Hornets. Stanford's stars all put on shows in a dominating match.

As the ball left the hands of junior setter Bryn Kehoe, sophomore middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo sailed through the air and pounded it down over the outstretched arms of the two Sacramento State blockers, sealing the 3-0 victory Saturday night at Maples Pavilion for the #2 seed Stanford Cardinal in the first round of the NCAA women's volleyball championship.  It was a fitting way to end the match as the 6'3" Akinradewo continually tormented the smaller Hornet players at the net, torching them for 14 kills on an efficient .480 hitting percentage, while adding two solo and two assisted blocks on defense.

The match might have ended earlier, as Stanford raced out to an easy 2-0 lead on identical 30-18 scores in the first two games.  The third game was a different story, however, as Sacramento State regrouped during the intermission and gave the Cardinal all they could handle after the break.  The Hornets stepped up their blocking at the net to tally four team blocks in that game, which equaled their total from the first two games combined.  Led by five kills from senior outside hitter Atlee Hubbard, Sacramento State held leads of 21-20 and 24-23 late in Game Three and threatened to force a Game Four when they tied the score at 26 apiece.  Unfortunately, their luck ran out as Stanford was able to crank it up a notch and take the last four points of the game to seal the victory, 30-26.

Marquee athletes always raise their level of play during the postseason.  Stanford outside hitters sophomore Cynthia Barboza and senior Kristin Richards, arguably the most dangerous duo in all of women's college volleyball, did not disappoint as they respectively notched 14 and 12 kills on .452 and .302 hitting, plus 16 and 14 digs on defense - all well above their regular season averages.  Likewise, sophomore libero Jessica Fishburn raised her level of play by digging up 20 balls in the match, which included an astounding 10 digs in the first game alone.

Of course, all of this has to be taken with a grain of salt, as the Pac-10 champs were heavy favorites over the smaller team from the Big Sky Conference.  In order to have a chance of capturing their seventh national championship, the Cardinal will have to raise their level of play even higher and cut down on errors, particular at the service line.  They tallied 11 service errors on the night, which could prove costly when facing a tougher opponent.  Barboza was certainly a bright side to Stanford's service game, as her lethal jump serve is a beauty to watch.  It has increased in velocity and effectiveness over the past few matches, and it resulted in two aces and several more Cardinal points in the match.

Stanford returns to Maples on Sunday night with a second round match against Missouri, who upset #21-ranked Santa Clara earlier in the day.  The Tigers were led by Na Yang with 18 kills and Jessica Vander Kooi with 12.

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