'Spike Night' women's volleyball preview: No. 7 Washington at No. 17 Stanford

StanfordPhoto.com / Washington Athletics

Who: No. 7 Washington at No. 17 Stanford in women’s volleyball action

When: Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT, with Krista Blunk and Dain Blanton on the call.

It’s Round 2 for these Pac-12 women’s volleyball powerhouses as the second half of conference play gets underway on The Farm.

Since We Last Spoke: No. 7 Washington (18-2 Overall, 8-2 Pac-12)

Simply put, the Dawgs are on a roll. They haven’t lost since their last Spike Night match, a 3-2 loss at home to Stanford, entering Wednesday on a seven-match win streak en route to sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 at the mid-point of the conference season. They’ve been doing it every which way as well. Against Arizona State, the team hit a hefty .303 in a swift sweep of the Sun Devils (25-18, 25-21, 25-14). In a highly-competitive four-set win at Arizona, the Dawgs amassed a whopping 17 blocks as a team. They’ve got balance - five players had either seven or eight kills in the win over Arizona State. They have a record-book setter who produced 51 assists against Arizona. In the words of Monta Ellis, Washington women’s volleyball have it all.

Wednesday’s match against Stanford is far from a sure thing; after all, Stanford did hand the Dawgs their last loss. This will be a very competitive match no doubt. That said, don’t expect Washington to play scared in the big moments, as the Huskies are 9-0 in true road matches this year and 13-0 away from Seattle overall. Nerd Nation usually has a decent-sized contingent for Pac-12 women’s volleyball games, but a loud crowd shouldn’t be an issue for a team that is undefeated on the road like Washington.

Since We Last Spoke: No. 17 Stanford (12-6, 6-4 Pac-12)

It feels like that at some point, the Cardinal is going to start stringing some wins together instead of these split weeks. There’s just too much talent on that roster, no matter how young some of it is. That said, this is the Pac-12 and one thing that doesn’t go your way can derail a perfect weekend.

For Stanford, that not-so-good thing was star middle blocker Inky Ajanaku getting injured in warmups against UCLA. Without Inky, the Cardinal lost a good chunk of its blocking prowess and didn’t have enough to take down a very dangerous Bruins squad, losing in four sets. Luckily, Ajanaku wasn’t hurt too badly, as she came back with a vengeance against USC, posting 10 kills and eight blocks in a three-set sweep of the Trojans.

The Card’s depth also hasn’t been helped by the fact that All-American outside hitter Haley Hodson is taking a medical leave of absence from the university and is out for the rest of the season. That said, the cupboard isn’t bare for John Dunning, and he’s gonna need all of that talent to play up to its potential in the coming weeks to keep the Card in the Pac-12 hunt, because this upcoming schedule ain’t easy: Washington schools at home, at the Mountain schools and home against the LA schools for the next six games. If the Card can go 4-2 in that stretch, it will keep itself in the thick of the hunt to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament (top 16 host). And if it goes 5-1? Well 11-5, especially with two wins over Washington, will have it right near (or at) the top of the Pac-12 heap.

Three Players to Watch: Washington

  • #13 Bailey Tanner (6’1 Setter, Junior) - Tanner has made a pretty seamless transition from being one of two setters in a 6-2 system to the lone QB in Washington’s new-look 5-1 for 2016, as she leads the conference with 10.72 assists per set. She surpassed the 2,000-assist mark for her career in the win over Arizona and is now 10th all-time in U-Dub history in that department.
  • #4 Courtney Schwan (6’1 Outside Hitter, Junior) - The team’s leading attacker has also been very efficient lately, as Schwan has hit at least .290 in each of her last five matches (that’s no small feat for an outside), including a .500 performance on 15 kills against Colorado. For the season, she’s hitting a healthy .331.
  • #28 Crissy Jones (6’2 Outside Hitter, Junior) - Yeah, she’s listed as an outside, but she was a net-rejecter supreme against Arizona, amassing 12 blocks in the four-set win. For the season, she’s second on the team in kills per set (3.21) and third on the team in blocks per set (1.14).

Three Players to Watch: Stanford

  • #12 Inky Ajanaku (6’3 Middle Blocker, Redshirt Senior )- Pregame warmup injury aside, Ajanaku has fully rounded back into form from the ACL injury that kept her out of the 2015 campaign, as she paces the Pac-12 with 1.60 blocks per set and is hitting .379 on the season on 2.68 kills per set. Watching her smash a quick set is like watching LeBron James dunk over some unsuspecting 7-foot center standing under the rim.
  • #1 Jenna Gray (6’1 Setter, Freshman) - Gray has taken over as the lone setter as Stanford switched from a 6-2 to a 5-1 at halftime of the Arizona match four matches ago. The results have been positive so far, as the Cardinal has hit .306 in the three full matches with Gray at the helm, a significant jump from its .254 clip as a team entering the Arizona match.
  • #2 Kathryn Plummer (6’6 Opposite, Freshman) - Plummer has been a double-double machine as of late, posting at least ten kills and ten digs in three of her last four matches (the one match she didn’t, she had 11 kills and six digs in a three-set sweep of USC).

Three Notes to Know

  1. Recapping the last meeting - Stanford took down the Dawgs in five sets in Seattle, getting out to a 2-1 set lead before outlasting the Huskies 15-9 in the fifth. Kathryn Plummer had a career-high 18 kills in the match for the Cardinal, while Stanford’s scrappy libero Morgan Hentz posted 25 digs. Crissy Jones put on quite the show for the Dawgs, amassing 24 kills, 12 digs and six blocks in the loss.
  2. A 5-1 battle - The 6-2 seems to be all the rage in the Pac-12, but Spike Night will pit two 5-1 teams against each other. As of last weekend’s matches, only five of the conference’s 12 teams were running a 5-1 (Stanford, Washington, Cal, Arizona State and Arizona).
  3. Strength vs. strength at the net - Stanford leads the Pac-12 (and nation) in blocking, while Washington is second in the conference (and 16th in the nation) in hitting. How many volleyballs are going to explode in Maples Wednesday night?
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