Musings from Maples: WVB vs. St. Mary's

Early in the season, the freshmen are already serving notice that they will be a force on the court. Above and beyond a simple recap of Women's Volleyball matches, we present some insightful observations, opinions and notes from the floor of Maples Pavilion.

Stanford Starters

OH – Alix Klineman
OH – Cynthia Barboza
MB – Foluke Akinradewo
MB – Franci Girard
S – Bryn Kehoe
OPP – Jessica Fishburn
L – Gabi Ailes

Saint Mary's Starters

OH – Taylor Groess
OH – Megan York
MB – Megan Burton
MB – Shannon Lowell
OPP – Lauren Jaeckel
S – Christy Payne
L – Alita Fisher


After battling Jessica Fishburn for the libero position the past two weeks, freshman Gabi Ailes has apparently solidified her spot in the starting rotation after donning the white libero jersey the entire night. In Stanford's four previous matches, the two backcourt mates traded the libero jersey in between games, giving head coach John Dunning a chance to see who would be able to produce under pressure. Ailes has performed brilliantly thus far and tonight, she again shined as the team's leading digger with 16. With incredible instincts and great court awareness, the 5'7" native out of Bellevue, Neb. could become the best backcourt player to come out of The Farm since Jami Gregory. With an infectious smile, boundless energy, and a willingness to never let the ball hit the court, Ailes has already become a fan favorite in Maples Pavilion and will continue to draw cheers for the next four years thanks to her unmatched hustle and ability to take even the most hard-driven attack and turn it into a perfect pass.

Alix Klineman continues to showcase why she was such a highly recruited player coming out of high school. Her offensive game is so advanced, it is difficult to defend against. Facing a double block? Kill. Multiple backcourt players in perfect position to dig her attacks? Kill. No matter what the defensive scenario, the right-handed outside hitter will find a way to put the ball down. Klineman won't power the ball through the block like past greats Ogonna Nnamani or Kristin Folkl did; rather, the Manhattan Beach, Calif. native relies on a large repertoire of shots to score points for Stanford. Because of her 6'5" frame and long arms, Klineman is able to contact the ball at a much higher level than normal, making her attacks from the back row just as effective as from the front. She understands how to use the block to her advantage and her ability to mix up the line-drives with the roll shot makes her virtually unstoppable. Tonight, she finished with a career- and team-high 18 kills, hitting .351 in the three-game sweep of Saint Mary's. Klineman is also a monster behind the service line, racking up two aces, and went on numerous serving runs thanks to her jump serve.

Janet Okogbaa took to the court for the first time in 2007 after being hampered with a hand injury in recent weeks. After primarily focusing on the right side as a freshman, the 6'3" sophomore returns to her more natural position in the middle, where she will back up junior Foluke Akinradewo and senior Franci Girard. Subbing in for Girard in the middle of the third game, Okogbaa recorded one kill and one error on three hitting attempts. A member of the 2004 and 2005 US Junior National Teams, Okogbaa has greatly improved her arm swing, compacting her once windmill-like attacking motion from a year ago. She has the physical tools to help Stanford in the middle and with experience, she should be ready to step up and take over for Girard after the 2007 season is completed.

Stanford is a tough serving team this year, in large part because the players present opposing teams with different looks. Cynthia Barboza, Ailes, and Klineman all have tough, topspin jump serves, while Akinradewo, Fishburn, Alex Fisher, and Cassidy Lichtman all utilize a jump floater that can wreck havoc on the other team's serve receive. Bryn Kehoe, who had a jump floater for much of her career, and Erin Waller both unleashed a nasty standing float serve that allowed Stanford to go on many scoring binges. While the service errors did pile up for the Cardinal (10 in total), the positives of serving tough undoubtedly outweigh the negatives. In total, Stanford had four aces, with Klineman accounting for two and Ailes and Fisher getting one apiece.

Despite the graduation of outside hitter Kristin Richards, Stanford's all-time leading digger, and defensive specialist Nji Nnamani, the Cardinal have a very strong nucleus of diggers, and defense in the back row will be their strength. Spearheaded by Ailes, Barboza, and Fishburn, the team seems to have dedicated themselves to keep the ball up at any costs. Ailes hit the ground on a number of occasions, sacrificing her body to keep the point alive. In addition, Ailes and Fishburn did a nice job with their hitter coverage, giving the Cardinal another opportunity for a point after a near block. Akinradewo and Waller displayed some nice touch on defense as well; Waller in particular had two spectacular digs early in the first game, serving notice to the Gaels that she could more than hold her own in the back.

While digging will be a bright spot for Stanford, its serve receive could use a bit more tweaking. The weak link in the primary passing rotation of Ailes, Barboza, and Klineman was Klineman, as the Gaels targeted her every chance they got. When Fishburn rotated to the back for Waller, she took Klineman's spot in the passing lane. Ailes was also prone to inconsistency. There were stretches where all she would pass were nails, but a minute later, she would end up shanking a ball or serving up an overpass. However, as Ailes gets more comfortable with the speed of the collegiate game, there is no doubt that she'll be passing nails on a consistent basis sooner rather than later.

After last week's poor blocking effort, where Stanford only averaged 1.75 blocks per game, front-row defense became a priority in practice and against Saint Mary's, that aspect has improved considerably. In the first game alone, the Cardinal came up with five blocks, including a Girard solo block that gave her team the 30-21 victory. Game Two had Stanford revert back to its old ways, as Akinradewo and Waller teamed up to account for the only block in the stanza. In the final game, the netminders picked up their game again, highlighted by a solo stuff by Klineman near the end of the match.

In the first game, Akinradewo was not able to get her offensive game going. Kehoe set Barboza, Klineman and Waller a total of 28 times, while Akinradewo only got it four times, converting twice for kills. However, the second game was a complete turnaround, as she pounded seven kills on 10 attempts to dominate the middle. The 6-3 quick hitter ended up with 11 kills on the night and a .368 hitting percentage.

John Dunning showed off his depth by inserting Fisher (Barboza), Lichtman (Waller), and Okogbaa (Girard) into the line-up in the third game and the team did not miss a beat. Both Fisher and Lichtman recorded two kills for the 2006 National Championship Finalists and Fisher added two digs and an ace to her stat line.

Despite not having as much height as Stanford, Saint Mary's was still able to compete well thanks to its scrappy defense and never-say-die mentality. Many expected the Gaels to struggle this season, especially after losing setter Mandy Bible to graduation and go-to outside hitter Missie Stidham to Sacramento State, but they have played well enough to sport a 5-0 record prior to the Stanford Invitational. Freshman outside hitter Megan York may only be 5'9", but she's a powerhouse of energy who can blast through the block; she ended up with a team-high 14 kills. Head coach Rob Browning has utilized the depth on his team and decided to employ a 6-2, with both Kapua Kamana'o and Christy Payne setting up the offense and Brittany Barker and Christy Jaeckel sharing the right side.

 


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