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Stanford women's volleyball in NCAA Final Four

Cardinal (29-3) topples Texas behind Richards and Barboza

Kristin Richards and Cynthia Barboza combined for 35 kills and 34 digs to propel the Stanford women’s volleyball team into the NCAA Final Four with a 30-28, 34-32, 31-33, 30-24 victory over host Texas on Saturday night.

Stanford (29-3) advanced to the regional final in Austin with a 31-29, 30-25, 31-29 victory over rival Cal on Friday night.

The second-ranked Cardinal will meet Pac-10 rival and defending national champions Washington on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. (PT) at the Qwest Center in Omaha.

The Huskies (29-4) advanced to the Final Four by beating Penn State, 30-27, 30-24, 28-30, 30-26, in Seattle.

Nebraska rebounded from a two-game deficit to beat Minnesota in Florida earlier on Saturday to advance to the Final Four.

Hawaii and UCLA are playing in the Honolulu regional for the other Final Four berth.

The Cardinal needed everybody who took the court to beat the Longhorns (24-7) in front of their home crowd. While Richards and Barboza took most of the attacks, big games from junior setter Bryn Kehoe, sophomore outside hitter Erin Waller and sophomore middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo also helped lift Stanford.

“This was a gathering of amazing players and when you get to see people rise to the occasion like both teams did, I think you get to see things that even surprise you,” Stanford coach John Dunning said.

Senior Nji Nnamani and junior libero Jessica Fishburn also made significant contributions as the Cardinal advance to its ninth Final Four since 1992, and 16th overall.

Barboza was named the regional Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the all-region team by Richards and Akinradewo.

“Being in the postseason as a senior is definitely a different experience,” Richards said. “It feels a lot different from the years we have been here when I was younger because my career is on the line in every game. I’m very confident because I have an unbelievable team surrounding me, a great coaching staff and I’m excited to play.”

Stanford faced adversity in the form of a 15-5 deficit in game two. Waller recorded six of her 11 kills in that game, helping the Cardinal recover and win, 34-32.

“Game two was a ridiculous game for us being way down,” Dunning said. “Texas had game point, Cynthia went to the corner to dig a ball, it was a great hit, and we somehow managed to transition and get a kill to win the game. Who knows how the match goes if we didn’t get that play.”

Stanford tied game two for the first time at 26 when senior Liz Suiter recorded a block. It was still tied at 29 before the Cardinal took its first lead.

Kehoe and Barboza had consecutive kills to finally hand the game to Stanford.

“We just tried to move it in and out,” Akinradewo said. “I think Erin Waller did an amazing job tonight. She definitely kept us going all those games and I think as a whole our team just stepped up to the challenge.”

The Cardinal also faced an early deficit in game four as Texas held leads of 4-1 and 7-4. Stanford scored the next four points, with one of Barboza’s career-high seven blocks giving the Cardinal an 8-7 lead. Stanford never trailed again.

“I definitely think that the experience we have had helps in these kinds of situations,” Richards said. “Coming in and scouting Texas, they are a very, very good team and playing them in this atmosphere was a very challenging thing to do. I would like place a big emphasis on the people on this team that haven’t been to the final four, and that haven’t been to the elite eight. They played their hearts out and they worked very, very hard.”

Barboza led the way with 18 kills and 11 digs while Richards added 17 kills and 23 digs. Akinradewo added 16 kills while hitting .406. Waller added four blocks and a .320 hitting percentage, including .750 in game two.

Fishburn and Nnamani combined for another 21 digs.

Stanford owns a 15-7 advantage in its series against Texas, including 4-2 in the NCAA tournament.

“They’re physical, and they’re bigger than we’ve ever seen in terms of speed,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “They made some good blocks, and we’ve been working on how to challenge high and make some different adjustments. We also have some young players out there who have learned so much while playing against such an experienced team like Stanford.”

In related news, Akinradewo, Barboza, and Kehoe were named to the AVCA All-Region first team, while Richards was an Honorable Mention selection.

Women’s swimming

Freshman Julia Smit was named the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Month for November, while Cassidy Krug picked up the same honor for diving. Both Smit and Krug won the honor for the first time.

“We've had a big month as a team and this is a big honor for a couple of our leaders," Stanford coach Lea Maurer said. "This shows that we have people that are some of the best in the country."

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