It's only the second week of the women's volleyball season but it felt like there was a lot at stake with No. 1 Penn State coming to play at No. 2 Stanford in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge in Maples Pavilion.
The Cardinal needed a match that transpired exactly the way it did on Friday, with junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess delivering the final blow of a match that delivered on its promise of talent and execution.
Stanford celebrated a 18-25, 25-23, 25-22, 16-25, 15-10 victory over the defending national champion Nittany Lions, reversing the nightmare decision of the same matchup in last year's NCAA Elite Eight.
Instead of losing a three-point lead in the fifth set, the Cardinal continued to add to its lead this year, ultimately giving itself a large does of confidence with the season still in the first act.
If you thought this was a heart-pounding match, the intensity and level of play should only get better should the nation's top two ranked teams meet again at the end of the year.
"They try to motivate each other," Stanford coach John Dunning said before the season. "What would be bigger in a team setting? To care more and to work at a higher level."
Junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, who had 14 kills and hit at a .385 clip, said she's had this match on her mind since their last meeting in December. She's also aware this match means nothing without achieving the ultimate goal.
"We have to have consistent growth," Ajanaku said before the year. "We all have another level of intensity, focus and communication."
It wasn't a perfect match for either side, but it was a great test of will and desire. Penn State out-hit the Cardinal, .243 to .237 and thoroughly out-played Stanford in the fourth set when it hit .438, making just two attack errors.
The Cardinal turned those numbers around in the deciding set, hitting .412 with no attack errors. The Nittany Lions made five errors.
Burgess tied the fifth set at 6-6 with a kill and Stanford went ahead on two Penn State mistakes.
Stanford kept the pressure on the Nittany Lions the rest of the way, adding to its lead.
Senior Morgan Boukather recorded a team-high 15 kills and had a hitting percentage of .353. Burgess finished with 10 kills and 13 digs. Setter Madi Bugg had 43 assists and 13 digs, while libero Kyle Gilbert added 19 digs.
Stanford meets ninth-ranked Illinois on Sunday at 11 a.m. UCLA plays Penn State, also at Stanford, on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Alex McCawley scored twice and No. 12 Stanford recorded its third shutout of the season, beating Boston University, 3-0, Friday at Memorial Field in New Hampshire.
McCawley maintained her offensive prowess as the Cardinal (4-0) scored three or more goals for the third time in four games. Stanford held advantages in shots (13-5) and penalty corners (8-2).
The Cardinal defense has not been scored on in over 185 minutes and has a 0.25 GAA. Goalkeeper Dulcie Davies made four saves to earn the 20th shutout of her collegiate career.
McCawley got Stanford on the board early with a hard shot at 3:23 that deflected off the Terriers' goalkeeper and a defender before finding the back of the cage.
Boston University (1-2) responded with pressure of its own, managing four shots in the half.
The Cardinal dominated the second half, posting a 10-1 shot advantage and 4-1 margin in penalty corners.
McCawley recorded her second goal of the game at 46:46 to give the Cardinal a 2-0 lead. It was McCawley's team-leading fourth goal on the year.
Casey Deeds sealed the victory in the 64th minute with her first goal on the season.
Stanford will have a day off before taking on New Hampshire on Sunday at 9 a.m. (PT).