Stanford volleyball prepares for NCAA run

Stanford women's volleyball has rolled off 11 straight victories and is poised to make another run for the national title. Wei Koh sets the scene for the Cardinal faithful: First-round play begins Friday and standing in the way of the Card is a familiar rival, juggernaut Penn State.

After securing at least a share of the Pac-10 crown with a five-set triumph over UCLA on Senior Night, the second-ranked Stanford women's volleyball team captured sole possession of first place with a four-set victory over Oregon on Thanksgiving Eve. Their efforts were rewarded on Sunday night when the selection committee announced the Cardinal (26-3) as the No. 2 overall seed in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

As expected, the top seed went to undefeated Penn State, who knocked off Stanford in the championship match last year. The defending champs look even stronger this year, as they became the first squad to complete the regular season without dropping a single set. Seeded third and fourth overall are Texas (25-3) and Nebraska (27-2), respectively. Five other Pac-10 teams were selected to the tournament, including No. 5 Washington (24-4), No. 8 Cal (23-6), No. 11 Oregon (23-8), No. 14 UCLA (20-10) and unseeded USC (16-11).

For Stanford, the journey back to the championship match will begin at Maples Pavilion when they take on Albany (23-8) at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Great Danes from New York captured their third straight America East Conference championship and are led by senior middle blocker Kamisha Kellam and sophomore outside hitter Amanda Cowdrey. Kellam, who was named America East Player of the Year after leading the conference with a .388 hitting percentage, averages 2.8 kills and 0.95 blocks per set, while Cowdrey leads the team with 3.3 kills and is second with 2.95 digs per set.

Long Beach State (25-5) takes on Pepperdine (20-7) at 4:30 p.m. in Palo Alto's other first-round match on Friday. The 49ers captured their first Big West championship since 2001, while the Waves received an at-large bid after finishing tied for fourth in the West Coast Conference. The winners of the two first-round matches will face off Saturday at 7 p.m.

If the seedings play out as predicted, Stanford would travel to the Fort Collins Regional the following weekend to take on No. 15 Florida (25-3), followed by No. 7 Hawaii (28-3). Awaiting them in Omaha would be Texas, followed by a championship rematch with Penn State on December

The regular season was a period of adjustment as Stanford searched for a new playmaker to guide the team. After experimenting with a two-setter system, Coach John Dunning finally settled on a one-setter rotation with sophomore setter Cassidy Lichtman at the helm.

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