It's No. 1 vs. No. 2 as Stanford women's volleyball takes on Oregon in showdown
The top two ranked college volleyball teams will go at it Sunday in Eugene, and, yes, one of those teams is Oregon.
The Ducks have climbed into the national scene the past several years and until they played at Stanford earlier in the season, were one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the country.
No. 2 Oregon (11-1, 20-1) enters its Pac-12 match with visiting Stanford with a single loss, and that was to the top-ranked Cardinal (12-0, 20-2).
Stanford remains wary of Oregon State, which hosts Friday night's contest in Corvallis. Just as the Ducks understand California could be dangerous.
The most intriguing match of the season to date resonates with importance. Should Stanford get by the Beavers on Friday and then beat Oregon, it would carry a two-match lead into the final six contests.
The Ducks could force themselves into a tie for first place with a sweep this week and they have to feel confident after taking Stanford to five sets at Maples Pavilion.
USC and UCLA, in a tie for third, also linger in the background waiting for an opener against the top two teams.
Stanford moved to the top of the rankings last week, its first No. 1 ranking since mid-October of 2010. The Cardinal has won 18 straight, its longest streak since winning 19 in a row in 2001 and the 12-0 start in conference play is its best since 1998.
Stanford's achievement this season has no explanation other than the team has risen to the challenge of a difficult season. The four Cardinal seniors have started a combined total of 19 matches, while freshman Brittany Howard is the lone Stanford player to have started all 22 matches.
Starting a match, of course, can be misleading. It's not always wise to give so much importance to whom is on the court for the first serve. Howard has played in two fewer sets than Jordan Burgess, for example, and Rachel Williams often acts as a closer in the final sets.
Sophomore libero Kyle Gilbert is the lone Cardinal to have played in all 84 sets.
In other words, Stanford makes use of its entire roster. The Cardinal has shown there are plenty of kills, assists, blocks and digs to go around. No one is being selfish on this team. Five players have at least 123 kills and four of them average at least two kills a set.
The two setters, senior Karissa Cook and Madi Bugg, are each in triple digits in assists and Cook needs two digs to become the fifth Cardinal to reach triple digits in that category.
The Cardinal remained at No. 1 in the latest RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) poll this week, its fourth straight week in that spot. Oregon is No. 6, while Oregon State comes in at No. 43.
Stanford ranks among the top-5 in the conference in digs (1st), kills (5th), assists (5th), blocks (3rd) and hitting percentage (4th). Individually, freshman Inky Ajanaku leads the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.393) and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week earlier this week. Junior Carly Wopat is second in hitting percentage (.386) and third in blocks (1.49), while Bugg is ninth in assists (8.15). Gilbert ranks sixth in digs (4.10).
Stanford has won all 55 matches its played against Oregon State. Earlier this season, the Cardinal swept the Beavers at Maples Pavilion, holding OSU to a .041 attack percentage.
Stanford leads the all-time series with Oregon, 51-4. The Ducks won two of their first nine matches against Stanford, a series which began in 1986. Oregon snapped a 41-match losing streak to the Cardinal in 2009, and has won two of the past seven matches.
After finishing second the past two years, Stanford's Kathy Kroeger captured her first individual title at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships on Saturday at the Robinson Ranch Golf Club in Santa Clarita.
The senior covered the 6-kilometer (3.73-mile) course in 20 minutes, 6 seconds, to beat runner-up and 2010 champion Jordan Hasay of Oregon by four seconds. Kroeger led the Stanford women to third place in the team standings.
Following Kroeger, the Stanford women got a 10th place from Aisling Cuffe (20:32), 13th from Jessica Tonn (20:37), 22nd from Cayla Hatton (20:52), and 37th from Megan Lacy (21:25) to score 82 points in a tight team competition. The top four teams all were under 100 points, with Oregon scoring 47, followed by Arizona (69), Stanford, and Washington (92).
Kroeger became the first Stanford woman to win the conference title since Arianna Lambie won the last of her three consecutive Pac-10 championships in 2007. In all, five Stanford women have combined to win eight Pac-10/12 individual titles.
In the men's 8K race, sophomore Joe Rosa paced Stanford to a second-place team finish, behind defending champion Colorado. Rosa's sixth place paced the Cardinal top five to top-30 finishes. Stanford scored 82 points to finish just ahead of third-place Oregon (105) and fourth-place Arizona State (109). Colorado placed six runners in the top 14 on the way to scoring 69 points.
Arizona's Lawi Lalang successfully defended his individual men's title, covering the 4.97-mile course in 22:49, to edge teammate Stephen Sambu by one second. Each ran a 4:36-mile pace.
Benjamin Johnson was 10th (23:43), Tyler Stutzman 17th (24:03), Miles Unterreiner 20th (24:10), and Erik Olson 30th (24:18) to round out the Cardinal scorers.
On the eve of the 15th annual NorPac Championship, No. 14 Stanford dominated the all-conference voting, as announced Wednesday night at the awards banquet in Farmville, Virginia.
Among the highlights: senior Becky Dru repeating as Player of the Year, defender Kelsey Harbin earning Defensive Player of the Year accolades and Tara Danielson claiming her second straight Coach of the Year.
Dru's selection as the West Division Player of the Year represents the fifth straight season a Stanford player has captured the honor (Camille Gandhi in 2008, Xanthe Travlos in 2009 and 2010, Dru in 2011).
Arguably the most accomplished player in conference history, Dru has now earned a total of five Player of the Year awards (2009 Rookie, 2010 and 2011 Defensive, 2011 and 2012 MVP) during her standout career. A 2011 NFHCA First Team All-American, Dru career totals in 82 games speak for themselves: 51 goals, 32 assists, 134 points, 293 shots and 14 game-winning goals.
Dru was also awarded a spot on the all-conference list, joining junior Hope Burke, sophomores Harbin and Alex McCawley and freshmen Dulcie Davies and Maddie Secco.
Harbin's contributions were also recognized on a higher level as the recipient of the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Danielson, 44-16 in three seasons on The Farm, has led the Cardinal to its fourth straight West Division regular season title. Danielson has also navigated Stanford to a 12-win campaign despite playing an extremely challenging schedule that has featured three games against the nation's No. 1-ranked team at the time.
Senior captain Rachel Quon and sophomore keeper Emily Oliver earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for offense and defense, respectively, after leading Stanford to victories over USC and UCLA last weekend and the team's fourth consecutive conference title.
Quon had a hand in a pair of deciding goals against USC and No. 2 UCLA over the weekend that clinched a fourth straight Pac-12 title for the Cardinal to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Oliver collected 13 saves on 23 total shots and allowed just one goal against two of the conference's top shooting teams in USC and UCLA to earn Defensive Player of the Week accolades.
Top-ranked Stanford (10-0, 16-1-1) will visit Cal on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Stanford forward Adam Jahn, who scored the match-winning goal in Stanford's 1-0 away win over No. 25 UC Santa Barbara last Friday, was named the Pac-12 Men's Soccer Player of the Week, the conference announced Tuesday.
It is the second conference weekly honor for the Cardinal this season. The senior forward has registered career highs of nine goals and 20 points so far in 2012. The winner in Santa Barbara was also the 20th goal of Jahn's Stanford career.