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Women's Volleyball Match of the Week preview: Stanford at Arizona

Sep 30, 2015 / Arizona Athletics

Who: No. 8 Stanford at No. 14 Arizona

When: Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks with the veteran crew of Anne Marie Anderson and Holly McPeak on the call.

Coming off .500 weeks that featured hard-fought losses to undefeated teams to start conference play, Stanford and Arizona look to get a leg up in the treacherous Pac-12 in the second Women’s Volleyball Match of the Week of 2015 on the Pac-12 Networks.

The Story So Far: No. 8 Stanford (7-3, 1-1 Pac-12)

The Cardinal suffered a huge loss before the season even started when it was announced that stud senior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku would miss the entire 2015 season after having surgery for an injury she suffered while playing with the U.S. National Team during the summer. The customary tough non-conference schedule employed by head coach John Dunning started off well enough without having the services of the 2014 Volleyball Magazine Player of the Year, as the Cardinal defeated Texas A&M (a 2014 NCAA tournament team) and Minnesota (currently No. 16 in the nation) before taking down No. 6 Illinois in four.

Then the waters turned rough – the Cardinal got swept by No. 1 Penn State and unranked North Carolina in consecutive matches before it righted the ship. Stanford was impressive in a four-set win at rival Cal in the Pac-12 lidlifter before barely bowing out to now-No. 2 USC, dropping the fifth set 15-13 (it was 13-all in the fifth also). Obviously the Cardinal expects to win both in the desert, but a split against two top-15 teams would be impressive as well.

The Story So Far: No. 14 Arizona (11-3, 1-1 Pac-12)

While facing tougher opponents hasn’t resulted in Arizona crashing down to earth, the Wildcats haven’t waltzed through the recent competition either. After losing just two sets during their eight-match win streak against unranked, non-conference opponents to start the season, the Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six matches, four of which have come against top-25 teams. With the exception of a loss to No. 15 Ohio State, the Wildcats have beaten all the lower-ranked or unranked opponents they’ve faced and lost to both of the higher-ranked opponents they’ve played.

Head coach Dave Rubio’s bunch went toe-to-toe with No. 2 Texas, dropping a five-setter to the Longhorns, and actually outscored the undefeated Sun Devils 92-90 points-wise in a four-set loss in the conference opener. The Wildcats got their best result the last time out, sweeping 18th-ranked Oregon at home. The schedule doesn’t get any easier though, as the Wildcats must face four top-15 teams in their next six matches.

Three Players to Watch: Stanford

  1. #3 Hayley Hodson (Opposite, Freshman)  All-American outside hitter Jordan Burgess hasn’t been herself so far this year as she has battled injuries; luckily for her, the new opposite is the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Hodson has lived up to that top billing so far, averaging a team-best 3.44 kills per set and was the first Pac-12 Freshman of the Week this year.
  2. #22 Madi Bugg (Setter, Senior)  Her assist totals are down this year (Bugg led the nation last year with 12.10 assists per set), but you can never downplay the presence of the two-time defending Pac-12 Setter of the Year. And while she hasn’t put up 2014 numbers, Bugg is still tied for fourth in the Pac-12 with 9.75 assists per set.
  3. #7 Ivana Vanjak (Middle Blocker, Redshirt Sophomore)  The silver lining around Ajanaku’s season-ending injury is that it has led to more playing time for this 6-foot-4 stud from Germany. After playing in just 13 sets last year, Vanjak has slid over from outside hitter to middle blocker and leads the team with 1.47 blocks per set, good for third in the conference and 14th in the nation. She and the 6-foot-8 Merete Lutz have helped the Cardinal be as successful as possible in life without Inky.

Three Players to Watch: Arizona

  1. #10 Kalei Mau (Outside Hitter, Junior)  The Minnesota transfer has burst on to the scene in 2015 to become the face of Dave Rubio’s offense. After notching 62 kills on 248 attacks in 49 sets in her first year in Tucson in 2014 (she was a Gopher in 2013), Mau already has 204 kills (4.53 per set) on 556 attacks in four fewer sets in 2015. Way more often than not, setter Penina Snuka is putting the ball on a platter for No. 10 – Mau has 227 more attacks than the next most-frequent swinger on the Wildcats. Mau has gotten off to a great start in conference play, averaging six kills per set against the Sun Devils and Ducks.
  2. #20 Penina Snuka (Setter, Junior)  The niece of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is on pace to be a top-3 setter and digger in Arizona history. Already with 2,989 assists two and a half years into her Wildcat career to currently rank sixth all-time, Snuka also has 944 digs for her career and is less than 200 digs away from cracking the Arizona top 10 in that department. The Pac-12 leader in assists per set (11.41) is good in blocking coverage and often has opposing blockers unable to smell what the Snuk is cookin’ by freeing up hitters for smashes into relatively open courts.
  3. #35 Tyler Spriggs (Outside Hitter, Freshman)  If Mau gets off her game, Snuka will often look to the freshman Spriggs, who helped keep the Wildcats close in the fourth set of their loss to Arizona State despite Mau making uncharacteristic attacking errors. Spriggs is second on the team in kills per set (2.88 overall, 3.29 in conference).

Three Notes to Know

  1. Tucson Mining Co.: Dave Rubio loves himself some solid back-row play. How much so? He has eight listed liberos/defensive specialists on his roster (by contrast, Stanford has four, Washington State has three and USC has two). It should come as no surprise then that the Wildcats lead the conference at 16.7 digs per set, nor should it shock anyone that five Wildcats average more than 2.5 digs per set. In the season opener against SMU, the Wildcats recorded – get this – 112 digs in a four-set win (or 28 digs per set, which is just silly).
  2. The 1,000-1,000 Club: With 979 kills and 972 digs, senior outside hitter Brittany Howard is probably two or three matches away from becoming the 10th Stanford volleyball player to reach 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs for a career. Her teammate Burgess became the ninth player to accomplish the feat, doing so in 2014, and now has 1,105 kills and 1,174 digs.
  3. Stanford’s Desert Dominance: Stanford is a combined 128-10 (.928) against the Arizona schools, including a 63-6 mark against the Wildcats. Stanford has won 17 straight against the Wildcats and hasn’t lost in Tucson since Oct. 13, 2005. If you’re looking for a little hope, Arizona fan, maybe this will help – Stanford’s No. 8 ranking is the lowest it has held in the last 21 matchups against the ‘Cats.