Quick Hits: Stanford vs. Cal Poly

With Don Shaw and KZSU's Rebecca Harlow in his ear, Daniel Novinson blogs from the Women's Volleyball match at Maples on Friday night. The Cardinal easily defeated Cal Poly and will now take on UCLA for a berth in the Final Four.

10:05 p.m.: Okay, just finished stringing UCLA's victory over Oregon for The Oregonian/drooling at the Oregon cheerleaders.

I've never covered volleyball before tonight and I'm off to a late start already, so cut me some slack here folks. I'll try to bring much the same football/basketball followers expect – whatever random observations my mile-a-minute-mind captures, some of them actually related to the game, except, hopefully, with fewer eight-clause, run-on sentences. (That one was intentional.) KZSU's Rebecca Harlow and former coach Don Shaw were kind enough to let me plug their broadcast with the special kiddie headphones – can't talk, but I get to listen to their insights, which I'll try to bring to you. (Jeez, they talk fast!)

10:06: 12-7 Stanford, Foluke Akinradewo with three early kills and wunderkind freshman Alix Klineman with two. Klineman would be 7-foot-2 if she were male – she simply towers over all her teammates.

10:10: Shaw says Cal Poly has a tendency to make too many unforced errors and we're seeing that early at 16-9 Stanford. Five errors to seven kills for the Mustangs early, who have a solid two sections filled with chanting, face-painted fans. Shaw also says both coaches have assigned their blockers to guard specific players, instead of the default of just following the ball. That should open up a lot of open lanes for hitters – Stanford's have capitalized thus far, Cal Poly's not so much.

10:13: 20-9 Card, wow is this game moving fast. If Stanford keeps playing like this (13 kills and 1 error), it won't matter if they're playing the Olympic team – the men's Olympic team – they should roll. Channel one of my favorite posters from Missouri's warnings about how Stanford teams of late always seem to have their best games when they need them least.

10:14: Thoughts on UCLA, Stanford's next opponent: great defense, but no standout offensive threats. If the Bruins are pitching 80 miles per hour, Klineman, Cynthia Barboza and Akinradewo are all pitching 90-plus. There's a reason Stanford and Washington headed a group at the top of the Pac-10, and UCLA and Oregon were a definite tier below. Not to jinx things, but it would take a truly poor effort Saturday night to keep Stanford from returning to the Final Four.

10:17: Back to this action, it's 27-14 as Klineman and Akinradewo each have five kills. Klineman makes that 28-14 with another kill from the left side. She starts at 6-foot-5, but then her shoulder almost overpronates at her strike point – her torso's leaning forward but her arm's straight vertical in the air, which is good for yet another few inches (and presumably greater velocity, too). No physics explanations necessary here, Stanford doubles up their Big West visitors 30-15 in game one, with Stanford outhitting .404 to .125.

10:20: For the uninitiated, a quick primer: hitting percentage = (kills - errors)/attempts. So yes, it is possible to have a negative hitting percentage, as Cal Poly's Gaby Rivera knows too well right now (-.083). A rough guideline is baseball batting averages – hit in the .300s and you're doing darn well, hit in the .100s and you might not be swinging too much more in the future. Stanford's having a Pete Rose performance here early. The only red flag is five attack errors for Stanford in the first game.

10:23: Shaw says Cal Poly's opened game two in rotation three, not rotation two. That's why I'm reluctant to second-guess coaches – my goodness can their spots be complex.

10:25: 3-1 Cal Poly. Come on Stanford, show no mercy.

10:25: Sure enough, boom, it's Akinradewo with a right-handed kill. "Hit them where they ain't," Shaw says. "You don't have to hit them all hard." Barboza chooses the latter route, thundering a kill up the middle with so much speed the defense didn't have a chance. Another point makes it 4-4, but you can see it on both team's faces – they know where this game is going.

10:30: Size matters. Erin Waller mistimed her jump on a block, but just kept her hands up, and that long wingspan was enough to roof Cal Poly. An Akinradewo kill ties the game at 11. Much tighter contest now that the Mustangs have cut down on the mental errors. The Mustangs remind me of UCLA – no standout hitters, but good team defense and plenty scrappy. They're down just 15-14 at our game two timeout, sponsored by ESPNU. (Just got screamed at for, God forbid, not putting my Diet Coke in the NCAA-sanctioned Dasani cup, lest my can give the Atlanta bottler three free seconds of advertising on a broadcast maybe 1,000 people are watching. Question: does the NCAA employ people specifically to lookout for improper corporate signage? How do these people list their job on resumes? How do they sleep at night? Maybe they should merge with the redcoats.)

10:41: Ha! Jinxed them. The unforced errors return and Stanford pounces, now leading 22-16 after yet another Mustang block knocks the ball out-of-bounds.

10:44: 11-4 After a Stanford 14-4 run, and now it's 26-18 Cardinal. Stanford looks less dominant than opportunistic.

10:50: At 29-20, Jessica Fishburn comes in to give Klineman a breather and Poly capitalizes by serving short to Barboza, which forces her to dive to the floor and prevents her from hitting. It's a sound strategy because Stanford's back-row hitters without Klineman are a relative weakness. The Mustangs rally for four straight points, but Stanford resettles after a timeout and closes out game two at 30-24. Stanford's outhitting Cal-Poly .367 to .138, Bryn Kehoe has 26 assists, which sounds really impressive but is actually pretty close to her season average. Six different Cardinal have at least four kills, Akinradewo leads all players with 10 on .625 hitting. Props to local product Waller, with six kills on .556 hitting.

11:04: Buy a 10-minute break, get 40% free. Akinradewo starts game three right where she left off – two straight kills.

11:05: Not to bag on an individual player, but Cal Poly's Gaby Rivera just took a ball in the side of the head. It's been that kind of night for Rivera, who's hitting .050 on 20 attempts. Kylie Atherstone is hitting just .077 on 26 attempts. The rest of the Broncos are all north of .200, with Jaclyn Houston leading the way at .400 on 10 attempts.

11:09: Shaw on Barboza: "She gets stuck underneath the ball too often and doesn't get a good swing on it." Stanford leads 8-5 after a tip snuck just in front of the Mustangs' Kristin Jackson.

11:09: If your best defense is a good offense, Stanford's serves have been absolutely incredible. They had only three aces heading into game three, but seemingly every serve forces a Bronco to dive to the floor and more often than not, unleash an inaccurate pass. That, in turn, forces the Bronco setter out of position and limits the looks Cal Poly can show Stanford. Stanford's serving prowess is a big, hidden reason the Mustangs are hitting just .182. It's 15-8 at the timeout brought to you by the Worldwide Leader. Stanford's hitting .722 this game, and while the Mustangs are at a strong .462, there's just no way you can overcome that. No Mustang has yet to hit double-digit kills. (Akinradewo leads with 14 kills on .700 hitting.)

11:14: Barboza hits into a triple block – don't try that at home, readers – but hard enough to roll the ball over the block. A Rivera double-touch gives Stanford the point.

11:15: Shaw: "Klineman's matched up on Hayes."

11:15:03: Kehoe sets it to Klineman on the left, the 5'11" Chelsea Hayes was so far under Klineman's strike point it looks like she didn't even try for the ball. That's another cross-court kill for Klineman.

11:18: 20-10 Stanford after Klineman busts out the defense – using two strong digs to bring Stanford one point closer to UCLA tomorrow night. Klineman leads the Cardinal with 13 digs and fellow freshman Gabi Ailes is second with nine. The future looks pretty bright for Stanford Volleyball. Think they could donate football or basketball a recruit or two?

11:20: Give Cal Poly credit. They were as loud as the Stanford folk tonight, and still are at 23-13 in game three, with Stanford up 2-0.

11:21: I think the threat of Klineman's crosscourt has opened up the quick set up the middle, and Franci Girard capitalizes off a beautiful set from Kehoe. For the non-volleyball crowd, think of an alley-oop, as the hitter has to jump at the same instant the setter hits the ball on the quick set – so the setter absolutely has to put it on the money. Great timing, great placement – that's why Kehoe's this team's unsung hero.

11:24: Kehoe gives us a bit of drama, running into the cameraman three feet away. He's got to move a whole lot quicker on that chair if he's even thinking of getting out of the way. Neither party's harmed, and Kehoe's smart given the score and situation to not dive for the ball too hard.

11:25: Kehoe's on the service line at match point 29-19, but Girard and Waller can't hold the block. 29-20.

11:26: Kehoe sets to Waller on the right side, and her crosscourt kill finishes off the Mustangs. Stanford 3, Cal Poly 0 (30-15, 30-24, 30-20) is your final. I'm off for some quotes and, you know, studying for those finals that start Monday. Go Stanford! 

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