Stanford Escapes USC to Advance to NCAA Volleyball Championship
Dec. 13, 2007
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Just when Asia Kaczor appeared poised to power Southern California past Stanford and into the NCAA volleyball championship, the Cardinal capitalized on two of her rare mistakes to save their season.
Kaczor served long on match point and was blocked on the next play, then the Cardinal finished off a thrilling 16-14 Game 5 win for a hard-fought 3-2 victory over their Pac-10 rival Thursday night.
Once Stanford's playmaker found her groove, so did the rest of the team.
Setter Bryn Kehoe overcame a slow start to record 70 assists and Pac-10 Player of the Year Foluke Akinradewo had seven of her 26 kills in the second game.
Kehoe won an NCAA title as a freshman and hopes to leave college with another. The Cardinal are seeking their seventh NCAA title and first since 2004 after capturing back-to-back regular-season conference titles for the first time since winning six straight in the late 1990s.
Tenth-seeded California (26-7), making its first semifinal appearance after a fourth-place finish in the conference, and third-seeded Penn State (32-2) were playing the late semifinal.
This marked the third time in four years that the Pac-10 made up three-fourths of the Final Four field, played this year on the home floor of the NBA's Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena.
Stanford won 23-30, 30-20, 30-25, 20-30, 16-14 to extend its winning streak to 12 since losing at USC on Oct. 27. The Cardinal trailed by as many as nine points and had a .295 hitting percentage in the opening game, then started playing with more consistency, energy and emotion. The fourth game was tied at 11 before USC went on a 11-3 run to force a Game 5.
Kaczor made seven of her match-high 29 kills in the decisive game, but Franci Girard's leaping block against her with the score tied quickly turned the momentum in the Cardinal's favor. Gabi Ailes made the key dig before Cynthia Barboza's 17th kill of the night sent Stanford into Saturday night's title match.
Cal's players watched anxiously on one end as two of their Pac-10 opponents played so evenly.
Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Alix Klineman had 14 kills and 30 digs for Stanford (32-2), which earned the top seed for the first time since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1998.
One of Stanford's only two defeats all season came 3-1 to the Trojans in late October - that's after Stanford swept the first meeting 3-0 on Sept. 27 at Maples Pavilion.
Kaczor, USC's 6-foot-4 senior opposite hitter from Poland, had four kills early to help the fifth-seeded Trojans to a 10-6 lead in Game 1. The All-American was the MVP of the Gainesville Regional last weekend after recording 42 kills in two matches, victories over St. John's and Texas.
Diane Copenhagen added 19 kills and Taylor Carico had 56 assists for USC (29-5), the third-place Pac-10 team.
Stanford lost only one game in its first four NCAA matches to get this far, against UCLA in the regional final the Cardinal hosted last weekend.
Ailes, Stanford's freshman defensive specialist, set a school record for digs in a season with 523, surpassing the mark of 502 by Kristin Richards in 2004.
The Pac-10 has won five of the last six championships and is 19-4 in NCAA tournament play, but Nebraska beat Stanford last year.
Stanford and Penn State are the only teams to appear in every NCAA tournament.