By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
College volleyball doesn't get much better than this: second-ranked Stanford against fifth-ranked California in a match to decide first place in the final game of the first half of the Pac-10 schedule.
Call it the mid-terms, with the exam to start Friday night at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion.
Stanford (7-1, 16-1) was ranked first in the country until UCLA upset the Cardinal in Los Angeles two weeks ago. The Bears (7-1, 17-1) have been good for a while now and have become a force on the national level.
In a conference filled to the brim with outstanding teams that can claim national championship caliber talent, even this match stands out.
California coach Rich Feller, a Palo Alto High grad, has elevated the program in Berkeley to new heights. The only things missing, really, are a conference title and a national championship.
Either of those could happen any given year.
Stanford coach John Dunning, who got his coaching start at Fremont High in Sunnyvale, has continued the tradition of excellence on The Farm. He is 278-46 at Stanford, leading all active coaches in the conference by winning percentage (.858). His Cardinal teams have won the past four Pac-10 titles; have been to six national championship matches and won twice.
There are all kinds of All-American candidates on both sides of the court, and there's some history.
After a 29-year drought as the visiting team, the Bears broke the Cardinal rule with a four-set victory on Oct. 19, 2008. More recently, Cal is seeking revenge after suffering a five-set loss on The Farm in last year's regular-season finale.
The Bears went up, 2-0, before the Cardinal stormed back to secure the win and its fourth-consecutive Pac-10 crown.
Stanford holds a 62-8 all-time record over California, which is off to its best start in program history. Last season, the team's split the season series, with each winning in five sets on its home court. The Cardinal is 15-4 against the Bears under Dunning.
Stanford may have an edge in that it is both Breast Cancer Awareness Night and Homecoming/Alumni Night.
Senior outside hitter Alix Klineman is well on her way to becoming the 10th four-time All-American in Stanford history. She's led the Cardinal offensively in each of her first three seasons and this year she's healthy.
Klineman leads all active Pac-10 players with 1,743 kills, ranks fourth with 1,008 digs, and is sixth with 74 aces and 247 blocks.
Cal is led by junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey, third in the Pac-10 and fifth in the nation with 5.21 kills and 5.84 points per set. She also ranks seventh in the conference with a .361 hitting percentage.
Senior setter/hitter Cassidy Lichtman led the team with 22 double-doubles, including 10 triple doubles in 2009. This season, she has registered a double-double or better in 10 of the team's 17 matches. She is fifth among active Pac-10 players in assists (2011), sixth in digs (907) and eighth in aces (68).
Cal senior setter Carli Lloyd is just two assists away from 5,000 for her career and ranks ninth all-time in the league. The Bears also have a pair of sophomore middle blockers who are putting up big numbers. Kat Brown and Shannon Hawari are 1-2 in the conference with 1.38 and 1.25 blocks per set, respectively.
Senior libero Gabi Ailes owns several top marks in the Stanford record book. She is the career digs leader (1,899), holds three of the top four places on the single season digs list and maintains the top three records for digs in a single match.
The Cardinal leads the nation in kills per set (15.12), assists per set (14.20) and hitting percentage (.332). Stanford has out hit its opponents in all 17 matches this season. In fact, the Cardinal has hit .250 or better in all 16 of its wins this year.
The Bears are second in the country in hitting percentage (.312) and in blocks (3.15 bps), 19th in assists (13.54 aps) and 14th in kills (14.34 kps).
Stanford freshman Emily Oliver stepped in at goalkeeper at halftime of top-ranked Stanford's fifth match of the season -- Stanford's home opener against Georgia -- and has been a fixture at the position ever since.
Oliver has started Stanford's past 10 matches, is credited with three shutouts, has been a part of three others, and has a record of 11-0. Her goals-against average (0.42) leads the Pac-10 and is sixth in the country.
Top-ranked Stanford (4-0, 13-0-2) travels to Arizona State for a Pac-10 match on Friday night.
The Cardinal (3-2, 7-6) pushed its record above .500 this season with victories over No. 13 UCLA and San Diego State this past weekend. Stanford now trails UCLA and California by a single game in the Pac-10 race after one trip through the double round-robin.
The Pac-10 champion automatically qualifies for the NCAA tournament, but Stanford's strong play of late (winners of seven of nine), also has put the Cardinal back in the thick of the at-large conversation.
Stanford sophomore Sally Watson is representing Scotland at the World Amateur Team Championships, which are being held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Watson will be joined on the Scotland team by Louise Kenney and Kelsey MacDonald. A total of 54 countries are competing for the Espirito Santo Trophy, which began Wednesday.
Men's water polo
No. 4 Stanford sits in a tie for third place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, with a 2-1 conference record. The Cardinal earned its first road victory with an 8-6 victory over UC Santa Barbara and continues its stretch of four consecutive road games by taking on last-place Pepperdine in Malibu on Saturday.
The USTA/ITA Northwest Regional gets underway Friday at Stanford's Taube Tennis Center and is scheduled through Tuesday.