Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 10, 2010

Stanford women set for next stage of NCAA volleyball tourney

by Rick Eymer

The last time second-ranked Stanford traveled for the third round of the NCAA women's volleyball tournament, Cassidy Lichtman, Alix Klineman and former player Katherine Sebastian were involved in a snowball battle of epic proportions.

The wintry fight occurred in Omaha in 2008, before Stanford beat Texas in the national semifinals and then lost to Penn State in the title game.

Stanford played its third and fourth round matches in Fort Collins, CO, where snow was also plentiful and freely distributed.

Cardinal coach John Dunning is not so sure it won't happen again before and after Stanford (26-3) meets Ohio State (24-11) Friday at 3 p.m. (PST) in the Dayton Arena.

"At that point staying relaxed does a lot of good," Dunning said.

Especially when the team, which left for Dayton on Wednesday, will be finished with finals and able to focus on returning to the Final Four for a fourth time in five years. The Cardinal lost to Michigan in last year's third round at Maples Pavilion.

"There's something nice about being on the road after finals," Lichtman said. "It's like preseason again when we get to be together. Halfway through the season we often forget the mindset that we have fun together."

The Pac-10 Conference is represented in the Sweet Sixteen by four of the six teams that qualified for the tournament. Arizona, sixth in the conference, lost to Northwestern, eighth in the Big 10, in the first round and UCLA lost to ninth-seeded Texas in the second round.

The Big 10 still has six teams remaining in the tournament of the eight that qualified. Fifth-place Washington beat co-fourth place Michigan in the first round and Northwestern fell to Missouri in the second round.

There are three Pac-10 vs. Big 10 matchups, all on the same side of the bracket, in the third round: Stanford-Ohio State, Indiana-USC (at Dayton with a 1 p.m. scheduled first serve) and California-Minnesota. Washington meets Nebraska.

Purdue, Illinois and Penn State are also playing; on the other side of the bracket. The Nittany Lions are the three-time defending national champions, and won the Big 10 title this year.

Ohio State finished sixth in the conference while Stanford shared the Pac-10 championship with California.

"They come from a great volleyball conference and have been good for a long time," Dunning said. "It's like the Pac-10; they play tough matches night in and night out in some great venues. They know what to do at this time of the year."

Buckeyes' senior outside hitter Katie Dull is a two-time first team all-Big 10 pick. In a conference that includes Penn State, that's quite an accomplishment. Of the 14 first-team selections, 13 will be playing this weekend.

Ohio State junior Kelli Barhorst was an honorable mention and Sara Mignin also received Big 10 honors.

Klineman, Lichtman and fellow senior Gabi Ailes were all named to the Pac-10 first team. Sophomore Hayley Spelman received honorable mention while Rachel Williams and Carly Wopat earned All-Freshman Team honors.

Of the 14 Pac-10 first team players, 11 will be playing this weekend.

Stanford advanced to its fifth consecutive NCAA Regional by defeating No. 17 Colorado State, 28-26, 25-13, 25-15, on Saturday night in Maples Pavilion. Klineman had 18 kills in the win the Rams.

The Cardinal beat Albany, 25-12, 25-17, 25-15, in Friday night's first round match as Lichtman had 13 kills, 14 assists and nine digs. Klineman recorded 14 kills and a hitting percentage of .667. Sophomore setter Karissa Cook had her seventh career double-double with 23 assists and 14 digs.

Stanford and Ohio State have met four times on the volleyball court, with the Cardinal winning all four matches. They last played in 2002. In 1994, the teams met in the national semifinals.

The winner of the match between the Cardinal and Buckeyes advances to Saturday's 1 p.m. regional championship against the winner of the earlier match between USC and Indiana.

Stanford swept the season series from the Women of Troy, although USC beat Pac-10 co-champion California twice.

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