For the first time in a number of years, the top-ranked Stanford women's volleyball team faced a challenge in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night against visiting Cal State Bakersfield.
"The days of a 'walk in the park' in the playoffs are done," Stanford coach John Dunning said after the Cardinal dispatched the Roadrunners, 25-21, 25-21, 25-18. "They did some great things and they controlled the ball. Their coach is very intense."
Bakersfield's first-year coach, Giovana Melo, played her collegiate ball at Arizona State and grew up in volleyball-crazy Brazil.
Stanford's next game won't be any easier. Michigan State (19-13) needed four sets to get past Loyola Marymount in an earlier match to extend its winning streak to six matches. The Cardinal and Spartans meet Saturday night in Maples at 7 p.m.
"USC finished 15-15 and who would have thought that?" Dunning said. "You don't want to play them in the playoffs. There are a lot of teams like that. You can't go by the record. I watched Michigan State and they serve well, they pass well, No. 11 (sophomore outside hitter Chloe Reinig) is good, their libero is good. We have to come to play."
Redshirt freshman Merete Lutz, who watched Stanford play in the NCAA tournament from the sidelines last year, produced eight kills and nine blocks for a team high 13 1/12 points.
"It's just as exciting now as it was then," Lutz said. "When you play, you're more involved and have to adjust. On the sidelines you're looking to help the other middle blockers."
Inky Ajanaku had eight kills and eight blocks as Stanford's final statistics weren't that impressive with the exception of the 18 team blocks, the team's highest total in a three-set match this season.
"This is awesome to be doing this," Dunning said. "We'd like to play pretty matches but the goal is to win. With so many teams from around the country, all playing differently, it's hard to adapt."
The Cardinal had one scary moment when Brittany Howard rolled her ankle during the third set and was attended to while Maples Pavilion went silent. She did not play the rest of the match but she was walking around and told Dunning she was fine.
Madi Bugg added 31 assists and Kyle Gilbert had 16 digs in helping Stanford record its 34th consecutive first-round NCAA match.
All 10 Pac-12 teams won their first-round matches. Arizona lost to BYU and Arizona State fell to Texas in second-round matches. Oregon is already qualified for the Sweet Sixteen, while Washington, Oregon State, USC, Utah, Colorado and UCLA join Stanford in playing for a spot in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.