Seniors Morgan Boukather and Kyle Gilbert have fun viewing themselves as the "mommies" of the Stanford women's volleyball team. It's a show of respect for the only two seniors on the top-ranked college team in the United States.
"Everybody actually makes it real easy," Boukather said after the Cardinal nipped visiting California, 25-16, 26-24, 25-16 in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams Tuesday. "We all work hard together all the time."
If they were the kind of mothers who bragged, the seniors would certainly be proud of their family. Stanford goes about business with all the professionalism of a Fortune 500 company.
It's the kind of cohesiveness that may pay dividends by the end of the season, with the Cardinal dreaming large as it prepares for another tussle of a conference season.
Talent alone doesn't get the job done in the Pac-12, where every member entered the week with an overall winning record. Every school will still have a winning record after the week is over too.
"I think it's the best conference in the country," Boukather said. "It's such a great conference that you learn never to overlook an opponent. Every single weekend is a challenge."
With seven teams ranked among the top 25, and that doesn't include Oregon State or Utah, both of which have won 10 of its first 11 matches, there's not much margin for error.
The Pac-12 holds a 113-19 record in nonconference matches, and 12 of those losses were to teams currently ranked in AVCA's latest poll.
Washington State (9-3) is Stanford's next opponent. The Cougars visit Maples Pavilion for a 7 p.m. first serve Friday night.
"That's what I love about this conference," Cardinal junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku said. "It's been like this for years. Every team goes all out against you. I love the challenge."
Ajanaku led Stanford with 14 kills, including one that may have put a dent into Stanford's court and ended the second set with extreme authority.
"We practice those hits and I thought I'd crank it up if I ever tried it in a game," she said.
Ajanaku also had a hitting percentage of .632 for the match, giving her the Pac-12 lead in the category at .591. She surpassed freshman teammate Merete Lutz, who is now second at .563. Washington's Lianna Sybeldon is third at .435.
Gilbert, who had 13 digs against the Golden Bears, leads the conference in digs per set at 4.33 while junior setter Madi Bugg is second in assists per set at 11.76.
Boukather, enjoying her finest season yet as a full-time starter, added nine kills and hit .368 against Cal.
"She has stepped up her game," Ajanaku said. "It's her time to shine."