Musings from the Road: Arco Arena - WVB vs.SC

TheBootleg.com's Women's Volleyball Analyst Roland Hu was on hand for Thursday's thrilling semi-final victory over the USC Trojans at the NCAA Women's Volleyball Final Four in Sacramento. The Cardinal was seriously on the ropes, facing a USC match point, but came up swinging in crunch time! Thanks in large part to Akinradewo's 26 kills, Stanford will face Penn State in Saturday's championship.

Stanford Starters

OH – Alix Klineman
OH – Cynthia Barboza
MB – Foluke Akinradewo
MB – Franci Girard
S – Bryn Kehoe
OPP – Erin Waller/Cassidy Lichtman
L – Gabi Ailes

Southern California Starters:

OH – Diane Copenhagen
OH – Jessica Gysin/Geena Urango
MB – Zoe Garrett
MB – Bethany Johansen
S – Taylor Carico
OPP – Asia Kaczor
L – Alli Hillgren


Stanford def. Southern California (23-30, 30-20, 30-25, 20-30, and 16-14)

•  Stanford started off the match looking very tight, as setter Bryn Kehoe was unable to really find a solid connection with her hitters, particularly in the middle. Normally solid with middles Foluke Akinradewo and Franci Girard, Kehoe just couldn't find a consistent rhythm, dishing the ball either too low or too wide of their sweet spot.

•  Passing in the first game was spotty, leading to Kehoe's setting woes. In particular, libero Alli Hillgren posed huge problems for the Stanford serve receive; down just two points at 11-13, Hillgren picked on defensive specialist Cassidy Lichtman for two straight shanks, starting a 7-3 Trojan run that would essentially determine the game. Leading the Southern California attack in the first stanza was senior opposite Asia Kaczor, who toyed with the Stanford defense for nine kills.

•  Stanford took control of the third game rather easily thanks to some tough serving from Lichtman and outside hitters Cynthia Barboza and Alix Klineman, forcing Carico to move beyond the three-meter line to set-up the attack, in addition to forcing the ball up from her knees because of the low pass. Akinradewo also came alive in the third game, noticeably more active with her block. Though she registered three blocks in that stanza alone, her contributions went beyond the box score as she worked very hard to touch every incoming attack in order to give her teammates a chance to dig the ball.

•  Barboza struggled with her passing again and it affected her attacking tonight. Head coach John Dunning made a bold decision to take Barboza out of the passing rotation on a few plays in the latter stages of the match, leaving three true freshman to get the ball to Kehoe - libero Gabi Ailes, Klineman, and Lichtman. While the passing wasn't always exact, the trio of first years more than held their own and gives Stanford fans a look at what's to come for the next three years.

•  Part of the reason for USC really dominating the fourth game and pushing Stanford in the fifth was the inability for Barboza or Klineman to gain any momentum and score points from the left side or back row. Klineman was stymied by the Trojan defense, as they were able to hold her to only three kills in the final two stanzas, digging up her attacks or getting a hand on every swing. Barboza's kill drought lasted from 11-10 in the fourth to 6-7 in the fifth, and there were a few out of system balls that she really took a whack at that sailed long and it appeared to shake up her confidence the rest of the way. However, she saved her most important put away for the final point of the match, as her tool off of the right side gave the Cardinal the dramatic 16-14 victory.

•  Though her offensive output tonight wasn't at maximum capacity tonight, Klineman showed that she is slowly becoming a well-rounded player after racking up a team-high 30 digs, tying Kerri Walsh and Lisa Sharpley for second place in Stanford's record book for the most digs in a single match. When asked about her incredible number of saves in the back, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year noted that she knew her attacks from the left side were off, so she tried to compensate by playing more aggressive with her defense and help her team in that aspect.

•  Ailes is now in sole control of Stanford's single season mark for digs, as she passed Kristin Richard's old record of 502 saves in the first game. With her game total of 25 digs, the Bellevue, Neb. native now has 523 ups on the year.

•  Foluke Akinradewo for National Player of the Year! If Nebraska's Sarah Pavan, good as she is, wins the award tomorrow, it will be based solely on reputation. Akinradewo's performance tonight - 26 kills, a .523 clip, and nine blocks, proved that she is playing her best with the season on the line. Stanford had the most trouble with her sitting on the sidelines and every time she came back up at the net, the team seemed more relaxed because they knew they could count on her for a quick point. The 6-3 middle blocker's ability to change the direction of the match is unparallel this year and she has the stats to back up the claim that she is the country's best player.

•  Kehoe's poor start could be attributed to nerves and the realization that this could be her final match of her collegiate career, which is somewhat surprising considering how many times she has been in pressure-packed situations before. As difficult of a match that she had with the numerous net violations and poor sets, Kehoe came through like the champion that she is, collecting 70 assists and 12 digs in the five-game triumph. Perhaps her most important contribution came towards the end of the game. On the heels of classmate Kaczor's serving miscue, the 5-11 playmaker showed she had ice water in her veins, serving two tough floaters to push her team past the Trojans and into the finals. In the press conference, Kehoe mentioned that all she was thinking about when she found her team behind on match-point was how her team was going to win the next point; clearly with Kehoe, losing is not an option.

•  In game five, Stanford and USC had both its big guns in Akinradewo and Kaczor lining up in left front, to maximize their attacking capabilities for the first three rotations, though in the three previous games, Akinradewo did not come in until two Stanford players had served. As Haley noted later, Dunning did what he thought was best for his team, which was to put Akinradewo up at the net in order to terminate points early for the Cardinal, despite not having the best match-ups with the Trojans.

•  Kaczor ended her 'SC career swinging away, tallying a match-high 29 kills on 80 attempts for a .250 hitting percentage and is a virtual shoo-in for all-tournament honors. Of course, what she'll most likely remember from this five-game loss is that oh-so-close jump serve that was just long on match point that gave Stanford and its fans new life. It's a shame that her individual performance will also most likely be overshadowed by her attack error on the following point, as her out-of-position swing couldn't get past the block of Barboza or Girard. In the subsequent press conference, her teammates were in awe that she garnered so many kills, but her final two mistakes were still fresh in her mind, as she quietly whispered to Carico "You weren't the one who was serving the ball. I was."

•  Statistically, Stanford outperformed USC in almost every major category including kills (83 to 72), hitting percentage (.265 to .246), assists (75 to 65), digs (104 to 101), and blocks (11.0 to 8.0), and yet was pushed to the brink of defeat. Outside of Kaczor's superhuman effort, senior Diane Copenhagen was the lone Trojan to hit double figures in kills with 19, while the Cardinal found themselves with five players having at least 10 kills or more: Akinradewo (26), Barboza (17), Klineman (14), Girard (12), and opposite Erin Waller (10). Defensively, victors also saw five defenders tallying over 10 digs: Klineman (30), Ailes (25), Barboza (15), Kehoe (12), and Lichtman (11).

•  In the middle of the third game, Mick Haley made a surprising move and pulled freshman middle blocker Zoe Garrett for senior Katelyn Bishop. Garrett at the time was a huge offensive weapon for setter Taylor Carico, racking up six kills on just eight attempts and recording one block. Explaining his somewhat bizarre decision in the press conference (Bishop ended the match with just two kills on nine swings, four digs, three blocks, and two service errors), Haley noted that Garrett was feeling under the weather and was asked to be pulled from the match, with the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to sustain her high level of play unless she was at full strength. It is somewhat surprising that Haley did not challenge Garrett to suck it up and play through her illness, as she was obviously an effective hitter for his team.


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