After upsetting #21-ranked Santa Clara on Saturday night, the Missouri Tigers were poised for a repeat performance when they squared off with #2-ranked Stanford on Sunday night. When a kill by Missouri middle blocker Nicole Wilson clinched Game Four for the Tigers and sent the match to a fifth and final game, it looked as if the surprising team from the Big 12 Conference might actually accomplish this feat. With their backs to the wall, the Cardinal were in danger of repeating last year's exit in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. However, this is a different Stanford team from last year, and they refused to disappoint the riled up crowd at Maples Pavilion. Racing to an early 4-1 lead, the Cardinal rode the shoulders of sophomore sensations Cynthia Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo and cruised to a 15-9 victory in Game Five to clinch the match for Stanford. Barboza and Akinradewo tallied four kills each in that pivotal game and finished the night with 18 and 26 kills, respectively.
In her final match at Maple Pavilion, senior outside hitter Kristin Richards had another strong performance, pounding down 22 kills on .326 hitting on the night, while adding 17 digs on defense. Junior setter Bryn Kehoe had a magnificent all-round game, filling out the stat line with 67 assists, 21 digs, five kills, five blocks and two aces.
After a relatively easy first round victory over Sacramento State, Stanford faced a much stronger Missouri team that was playing their best volleyball of the season. The Tigers had few weaknesses in their game, serving Stanford strong all night and outblocking the Cardinal 14 to 11. Setter Lei Wang led a balanced attack, resulting in five different players recording double digits in kills, while libero Tatum Ailes covered every square inch of the court en route to a 29-dig night. Stanford's big three of Akinradewo, Barboza and Richards proved too much for Missouri, however, with Akinradewo in particular simply unstoppable at the net. It was a good test for the Cardinal, who were stretched to five games only one time during the regular season, a 3-2 victory over UCLA on the road.
Stanford advances to the NCAA Regional Semifinals in Texas where they face cross-bay rivals California on Friday, December 8. Even though Stanford swept the season series with the Bears, they should expect a good battle as #15-ranked California is coming off a pair of impressive victories over #16-ranked Long Beach State and #14-ranked Cal Poly.
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