Sports

It's time for Stanford's Boukather to shine in volleyball

 

Senior Morgan Boukather has played and started alongside seven All-Americans during her Stanford women's volleyball career. Ask her to name them, well, they're just teammates to her, she doesn't know the specifics.

She also knows the Cardinal plays in one of the top conferences in the country, but ask her how many teams are ranked among the top 25?

"We're still No. 1, right?" Boukather asks Stanford's Sports Information Director Regina Verlengiere, who nods in agreement.

Boukather's personality fits the culture at Stanford. Blissfully unconcerned about anything outside the program, Boukather seems to enjoy everything about Cardinal volleyball and, specifically, playing and practicing with her team.

"She's one of those players who you just can't teach the way she hits the ball," said Stanford junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, one of the four All-Americans currently on the team. "She hits at angles that are unteachable and she save balls that seem to be hopeless. She can terminate the ball."

Boukather came to Stanford as a high school All-American out of Corona del Mar. She started 19 matches as a freshman and sophomore before starting just once as a junior.

This season, Boukather has started all nine matches in which she has appeared, including Tuesday night's 25-16, 25-20, 25-16 victory over visiting California in the Pac-12 opener. She's more than held her own.

Boukather has 88 kills, including 15 against then-No. 1 Penn State earlier this season. She had 11 kills all of last season.

"It's definitely worth it every single day," Boukather said. "Last year showed me how much I love volleyball and how it's so nice for this opportunity. I wouldn't trade it for anything. The team is really what makes it all worthwhile."

To take advantage of the team's talent last year, Rachel Williams was moved to opposite from outside hitter, where Carly Wopat was a force.

"Rachel had a great year," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "For Morgan, it made her all the more ready to play this year."

It also has led to giving Stanford one of its most experienced teams in recent memory. There are usually upperclassmen at every position, with a sophomore or freshman sprinkled in.

Boukather stepped back into her starting position and began producing from Game 1. She's recorded her first three career double-doubles (in kills and digs) this year. She reached double figures in kills just four times in her first three years combined.

"The whole team worked hard during the offseason," Boukather said. I learned a lot from watching Rachel and others. I always listened and could see what people needed on the court. I'm excited to be a greater part of this team."

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.

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," 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 against the Golden Bears, 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.

Senior libero Kyle 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 added nine kills and hit .368 against Cal.

"She has stepped up her game," Ajanaku said. "It's her time to shine."

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