By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Rachel Williams continued seeing double Friday night and that spelled victory for the Stanford women's volleyball team in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Maples Pavilion.
The sixth-ranked and 11th-seeded Cardinal downed visiting Sacred Heart, 25-14, 23-25, 25-22, 25-11, and remained undefeated in the first round of the postseason.
One of just two teams in the nation, with Penn State, to appear in all 31 NCAA-sponsored tournaments, Stanford is the only team to own a 31-0 record in its first game.
The second round is a little different story and the Cardinal (22-7) will have its hands full with Michigan, which returns three players from a team that upset Stanford two years ago. Senior Alex Hunt went for 18 kills two years ago and went for 17 kills in the Wolverines' 22-25, 25-11, 29-27, 25-17 win over Baylor.
Michigan finished eighth in the Big 10 this season, but that's deceiving. The Big 10 did not lose a team in the first round and still have seven teams remaining entering Saturday's 7 p.m. first serve. Only its conference champion, Nebraska, was knocked out.
Meanwhile the Pac-12 produced seven entries into the tournament and three have already fallen by the wayside, including California, which beat Stanford twice this year.
"It just means there are no cakewalks in this tournament," said Williams, who recorded her 20th double-double of the year with 18 kills and 11 digs. "We all have to be in the moment and not thinking about the next game. We have to be in every play."
Junior setter Karissa Cook, who had her 19th double-double with 46 assists and 14 digs, is one of four Stanford players who were around for the last loss to Michigan. Hannah Benjamin, Stephanie Browne and Jessica Walker also went through it.
"I think a lot of teams can win and a lot of teams can lose," Cook said. "We remember that experience but we are both different teams. We'll just go brawl."
The Pioneers, coached by USC grad Rob Machan, went into the intermission tied with Stanford at one set apiece. The Cardinal also had to rally to win the third set against a team that was playing its second tournament game ever.
"When I was building the program I just wanted to get good, solid volleyball players," Machan said. "I think you saw a group who knows how to play the game. We wanted to make Stanford have to play great, and in the fourth set they did."
Stanford coach John Dunning said as much in his opening statement.
"They made us raise our game," he said. "We didn't exactly put ourselves in a good situation but we responded."
Sacred Heart did not act like a team new to the tournament. Whether that had anything to do with the eight players from California (and more on the way) on the roster, or that the novelty wore off in last year's loss to Nebraska is difficult to determine.
"Yeah, we got beat but as a team we know we have so much more in us," said Pioneers' senior libero Jessica Colberg, who graduated from Long Beach Poly. "We have a feeling of accomplishment and I think Sacred Heart can go as far as anyone in the nation."
Stanford hit .464 as a team in the fourth, and deciding, set. Sacred Heart was held to a minus .032. Lydia Bai added 14 kills and hit at a .444 clip, Hayley Spelman had 10 kills on a .421 hitting percentage and Carly Wopat contributed 13 blocks and eight kills. Benjamin recorded 15 digs.