By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford women's volleyball team probably planned on starting the Pac-12 Conference schedule on a more successful note. The sixth-ranked Cardinal knows it has to finish stronger if it's looking to repeat as conference champion.
That goal begins at home, with matches against Arizona State and Arizona. Stanford (2-3, 8-3) will look to avoid its first three-match losing streak in 12 years when the Sun Devils take their places in Maples Pavilion for a 7 p.m. match Friday night.
Cardinal coach John Dunning has never experienced such a conference start since taking over the program, in 2001. Once is quite enough, thank you very much.
Stanford dropped a 25-23, 26-24, 25-23 decision to host USC on Saturday night, losing a match in straight sets for the first time in two years.
The Cardinal lost a grueling five-set match to host UCLA the previous night and is 2-3 in conference play for the first time since 2000 and for just the second time since 1989.
All three losses were on the road to teams ranked among the top 12 in the nation and the Cardinal will face all three at home later in the season.
In the mean time the Cardinal must suffer the indignity of seventh place in the competitive Pac-12, a conference so loaded with talent that even the top-ranked team in the nation was vulnerable. California was also swept by the Los Angeles schools over the weekend, its first losses of the year.
USC and UCLA, despite recent successes, are merely tied for second in conference play, behind Oregon (4-0, 11-1). Oregon State and Washington are also ahead of the Cardinal and the Beavers (3-1, 11-3) are not even nationally ranked!
The weekend proves, only as a reminder, that there is no 'normal' in the Pac-12, just as there was nothing routine in the Pac-10 for so many years.
It might be relevant to point out that last year's national champion, Penn State, lost five times during the regular season. The top eight teams in the Pac-12 have no more than three losses, at the moment, and most of them consider themselves national title contenders.
And why not? Cal was in the title match last year, USC beat Stanford to reach the Final Four and both UCLA and Washington were knocked out of the NCAA tournament by teams that reached the Final Four.
Take the top eight teams in the conference, put them in a bag and shake for a few weeks, and then we'll see how things shape up (or ship out).
Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Williams ranks second in the conference with 4.68 kills per set and 5.18 points. She also leads the Pac-12 (with Cardinal junior Karissa Cook) with seven double-doubles so far this year.
Sophomore middle blocker Carly Wopat leads the conference, and is second in the nation, with 1.66 blocks per set. She has recorded nine blocks in a match twice this season.
The Cardinal leads the Pac-12 with 17.71 digs per set and is tied for second with 3.04 blocks per set.
Stanford has won 58 of the 62 meetings with Arizona State and has never lost with Dunning at the helm. The Cardinal is 56-6 against the Wildcats and has not lost to them since 2005.
Top-ranked Stanford continues Pac-12 play this weekend in the great northwest. The Cardinal (1-0, 9-0-1) visits Washington State for a 3 p.m. contest on Friday and then plays at Washington on Sunday afternoon.
It will be an interesting week for three players. Senior defender Camille Levin, senior forward Lindsay Taylor from Castilleja and sophomore goalkeeper Emily Oliver will join Stanford product Christen Press at the United States women's Under-23 national camp that gets underway Sunday in Carson and runs through next Friday, although none of the three current Cardinal players are expected to miss any matches when USC (Oct. 7) and UCLA (Oct. 9) come to town for crucial matches.
Marjani Hing-Glover scored twice for Stanford in its 7-0 victory over Arizona last Saturday night to open conference play.
Stanford seems to have put things together at just the right time. The Cardinal beat visiting Vermont, 2-1, in a nonconference contest Sunday, and now owns a two-game winning streak, a three-game unbeaten streak and have recorded points in four of its past five games.
The Cardinal (3-4-1) timed its good run for the Pac-12 Conference opener, which arrives Friday afternoon at San Diego State. Stanford also plays at No. 18 UCLA on Sunday afternoon.
"Going to Southern California is always tough, but we are looking forward to getting into Pac-12 play," Stanford coach Bret Simon said. "We had our backs to the wall this weekend. We had to win two games this weekend against a pair of quality opponents and we were able to do just that."
Adam Jahn,who headed in the game-winning goal off a corner kick in the 42nd minute to give Stanford a 1-0 win over Harvard on Friday and added an assist Sunday, was named Pac-12 Player of the Week.
The Stanford women's team opens its season with a home meet against San Jose State at on Friday at 2 p.m., with the men traveling to UC Santa Cruz for meet Saturday.
Cardinal sophomore Maya DiRado had a successful summer season, winning a gold medal in the 400 IM at the World University Games.
Stanford senior Bobby Bollier was a national champion in the 200 fly.
Thanks to an impressive weekend sweep of conference opponents that was highlighted by a 3-2 statement victory over rival California, Stanford has equaled one program milestone while inching closer to another.
Stanford moved up two spots to No. 6 in this week's Kookaburra/NFHCA National Coaches poll on Tuesday. The No. 6 national ranking matches the highest in program history, first achieved on Sept. 22, 1987, when the Cardinal checked in at No. 6 following a 4-1 start.
Stanford (8-1) will try to extend its seven-game winning streak Friday, when Robert Morris (6-5) visits for a 7 p.m. match. The Colonials have won four of their past five games.
Stanford swept the NorPac West Division's Player of the Week awards, with Becky Dru (Offensive), Kelsey Lloyd (Defensive) and Alex McCawley (Rookie) being honored.