For the next couple of NCAA women's volleyball tournament matches it's going to feel like a routine weekend in the Pac-10. Third-seeded Stanford did its part in making the Elite Eight an extension of the regular conference season.
Senior outside hitter Alix Klineman recorded 29 kills and the second-ranked Cardinal beat Ohio State, 25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-18, Friday in Dayton, Ohio, to advance to its third Regional Final in four years.
Their next opponent is sixth-seeded USC, which finished third in the Pac-10 behind co-champions Stanford and California. That match will be played at 1 p.m. (PST) Saturday and will be televised on ESPNU.
Seventh-seeded California beat Minnesota in Seattle and will play Washington for a spot in the Final Four. The unseeded Huskies excused No. 2 Nebraska from the proceedings.
With all four conference teams on the same side of the bracket, at least one Pac-10 team will play for a national title. They'll just have to knock off each other to get there.
The Cardinal hopes to be the last team standing, and has beaten the Women of Troy twice this year. That's not going to make Saturday's regional final any easier. After all, it was USC which beat the Bears twice.
"We know that it is the elite eight and we are playing for something that we've all worked really hard for," Stanford's Cassidy Lichtman said. "And this is USC; even for a conference match it's something we get pumped up for because there is a big rivalry there and they are always a good team and there is a tradition there for both teams."
Stanford needed to work some overtime to get by the Buckeyes, who played two of their best sets possible to open the regional semifinal.
"Look at the stats," Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston said. "We out hit them, out dug them . . . they just made some really great plays."
The Cardinal knew it was in a battle from the opening serve. In the first set, there were 10 ties and six lead changes. Stanford won despite being out hit, .458 to .379.
In the second set, the Buckeyes scored eight of their points on Stanford attack errors and went on to win. The Cardinal hit just .214 in the set.
"One thing that kind of got to us the first two games is that they pushed the tempo," Klineman said. "As soon as the whistle was blown, they were trying to serve the ball and catch us off guard. It worked for them a little bit. We just had to calm down a little bit and play our game."
Ohio State led, 13-11, in the third set before Stanford scored four consecutive points to forge ahead. The Cardinal never trailed again the rest of the match, opening a 5-1 lead in the deciding set.
"When you have to fight it makes you better," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "We knew Ohio State had a lot of fight in them. They play tough, crazy defense and it seems like you can't get anything down. We had to dig deep and I thought we started playing through every point well."
Freshman Rachel Williams recorded kills on three of Stanford's final five points, with Klineman ending the Buckeyes' season with a back row attack.
"It's been a really neat journey and we're glad we get to continue," said Dunning.
Stanford is the highest remaining seed in the tournament, with fourth-seeded Penn State, the three-time defending champion, looming on the other side of the bracket. The Nittany Lions play 12th-seeded Duke, while No. 9 Texas and No. 16 Purdue, which upset top-seeded Florida in straight sets, tangle in regional finals.
Lichtman recorded her team-best 17th double-double with 10 kills and 27 assists, while also adding seven digs and a block. Sophomore middle blocker Jessica Walker finished with a career high 11 kills on 18 attempts with two errors for a .500 attack percentage.
Stanford recorded a season-best nine service aces while senior libero Gabi Ailes and sophomore defensive specialist Hannah Benjamin each recorded 11 digs for the Cardinal. Sophomore setter Karissa Cook added 10 digs to go along with 26 assists for her eighth double-double.
"They are a good team," Ohio State senior Katie Dull said. "They're smart and knew what we expected them to do and they did the opposite."