Three Stanford athletes qualify for the final in their sport


Reaching the championship match of their respective sports is nothing new for Stanford grads Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Gibbs. Incoming freshman Olivia Baker appears to have the same gene.

Walsh Jennings and Gibbs have won NCAA titles while a Cardinal and both have gone on to successful professional careers. Walsh Jennings even owns a couple of Olympic gold medals.

They both did it again on Saturday, in different parts of the country, winning in the semifinal rounds and advancing into Sunday's championship final.

Baker also helped an American team reach the final in its sport.

The United States women's beach volleyball team of April Ross and Walsh Jennings advanced to the gold medal match at the World Series of Beach Volleyball, an FIVB Grand Slam, in Long Beach with a pair of victories on Saturday.

The top-seeded Americans play Brazil's No. 5 Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas De Freitas at 12:30 p.m. (PT) Sunday for the gold medal.

Ross and Walsh Jennings came back from a tough, three-set, second-round match on Friday for two easy wins on Saturday.

In the third round, the U.S. team defeated Netherlands' No. 8 Marleen Van Iersel and Madelein Meppelink, 21-16, 21-16. In the semifinals, they beat No. 14 Natalia Dubovcova and Dominika Nestarcova, 21-14, 21-16.

"I felt like we were in the driver's seat," Walsh Jennings said of the semifinal match, played before a packed house. "We had a game plan. We executed it against them. More importantly, with us, with our handling of the ball I think we executed better than we have in a while."

Ross added: "I thought Kerri played amazing defense. That's one of the few matches that we've played in playoffs where we split-blocked the whole time. She had a great read on them. We scored points because of it. That was key."

Gibbs also recovered from a tough match to win twice in straight sets at the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington.

The seventh-seeded Gibbs defeated fifth-seeded Irina Falcone, 7-5, 6-4, on Saturday to earn her spot in Sunday's final against second-seeded Madison Brengle, who topped No. 3 seed Melanie Oudin, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

Gibbs likely clinched the wild card into the U. Open, which was at stake this weekend. It will be her third straight trip into the main draw of the season's final Grand Slam. Her two NCAA titles earned her berths the previous two years.

She nearly had to withdraw from the event on Thursday when she sustained a hip injury following a first set loss. Gibbs braved the final two sets, pulling out a victory to reach the quarterfinal.

"My hip was better today, and I'm hoping for even better tomorrow," she said. "I went out there anticipating a tough match and was very happy to get away with straight sets."

Stanford sophomore Carol Zhao rallied for a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (3) victory over Katerina Siniakova on Saturday during the first day of qualifying at the Bank of the West Classic at Taube Family Tennis Stadium.

Zhao, a wildcard entrant, dropped a tough first set before battling back against Siniakova, seeded No. 2 in the qualifying draw and ranked No. 123 in the world.

Next up for Zhao, who won two qualifying matches in Lexington, is a noon contest Sunday on court six against Marina Shamayko, who also posted a three-set victory this afternoon.

Trailing 5-4 in the first set, Zhao extended the match to 5-5 before Siniakova captured back-to-back games. Zhao quickly moved in front 3-0 to begin the second set and held on for a 6-4 victory.

In the deciding set, Siniakova led 3-1 before Zhao stormed back to take a 5-3 advantage. Closing out the match proved to be difficult, with Siniakova ripping off three straight games for a 6-5 edge.

Zhao tied the match at 6 and cruised in the tiebreaker, winning seven of the 10 points.

Fellow freshman Caroline Doyle nearly posted a qualifying victory of her own before dropping a 7-5, 6-3 decision to Aleksandra Wozniak, the draw's No. 1 seed and 2008 Bank of the West Classic champion.

In Eugene, Ore., Baker helped the USA women's 1,600 relay team qualify for the finale at the IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships.

The American team of Shakima Wimbley, Felecia Majors, Aaliyah Barnes and Baker won the second heat of the prelims, highlighted by a 52.42 third leg by Barnes.

Baker, the bronze medalist in Friday's 400 final, anchored the relay to a first-place finish of 3:32.73, the fastest junior time in the world this year.

"I felt good. I knew the goal in mind was just to qualify and hold position," Baker said. "My team did a great job of putting me out there and really giving me a great lead. I felt good running a clean and safe race and getting the auto-qualifier."

Wimbley was third coming into final straightaway on the first lap but moved up to get the first handoff. On the last curve of leg two, Majors was stride for stride with Nigeria before easing ahead to make the handoff first. On lap three, Barnes ran a very strong leg that kept the U.S team ahead before passing the baton to Baker.

The Canadian women's 1,600-meter relay team also qualified for the finals by clocking 3;34.86, just .36 off the Canadian record and the No. 2 qualifying time in the semifinals. The team includes Menlo School grad Maddy Price, who ran down Nigeria's top 400 runner to put the Canadians in position for a medal on Sunday.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/USA volleyball

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