Stanford women beat Oregon State to reach Elite Eight


Junior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku recorded 16 kills, one of four Stanford players to reach double figures, as the top-ranked Cardinal women's volleyball team advanced to the NCAA Elite 8 with a 25-20, 25-14, 22-25, 25-15 victory over Pac-12 rival Oregon State on Friday in Ames, Iowa.

Stanford (32-1) faces Florida (27-3) on Saturday with a berth in the Final Four in Oklahoma City on the line. The Gators beat Illinois in five sets, with a 16-14 final set.

"I think we focus on playing Stanford volleyball," Ajanaku said. "We don't have to do anything out of the ordinary but we are all going to have our hearts in the game and we are all going to want to be great. We all just have to focus on being good."

The Cardinal won its 20th third-round match all-time while the Beavers (21-13) reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in their history. Stanford also improved to 61-0 all-time against Oregon State.

Junior outside hitter Brittany Howard added 14 kills, Jordan Burgess had 12 and redshirt freshman Merete Lutz had 11.

The Cardinal out-hit Oregon State by a .348 to .193 margin as the teams combined to dig 149 balls. Senior libero Kyle Gilbert had 31 of Stanford's 76 digs. Burgess, Howard and senior Megan Boukather, who each reached double digits, combined for another 37 digs.

Lutz had one error in 24 attacks to hit .417. Ajanaku hit .394, Howard hit .361 and Burgess hit .303.

Two-time Pac-12 Setter of the Year and the national leader in assists per set Madi Bugg filled up the stat sheet with 56 assists, seven digs, and a pair of blocks. She also had five kills on nine swings, without an error, to hit .556.

Gilbert upped her all-time digs mark to 1,961, second on Stanford's all-time list to Gabi Ailes' 2,147.

Stanford coach John Dunning recorded his 400th career win in his 14th season at Stanford, and has 837 wins in 30 years as a Division I coach.

Stanford has a history with Florida. The Gators beat Stanford in four sets the last time the teams met, at the Big Four Classic in 2013 in Texas. The Cardinal is 5-4 overall against Florida.

Stanford faced a conference opponent in tournament play for the first time in four years and improved to 22-7 since 1986 against Pac-12/10 foes in the postseason.

Oregon State drew within 18-17 in the first set before kills from Lutz, Burgess, Boukather and Ajanaku and a service ace from Boukather sparked a Cardinal run.

In the fourth set, the Beavers were within 6-4 when Stanford scored five of the next seven points to take a comfortable lead. Another Boukather ace gave the Cardinal a commanding 19-10 advantage.

Stanford has lost its last three trips to the Elite Eight and will be seeking its first trip to the Final Four since playing in the 2008 championship match.

"We played very well in the regional final last year," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "We got to 9-6 in the fifth and ended up not winning, and that's an experience that we have. It's motivated them the whole year to learn how to play together better."

Elsewhere, third-seeded Washington, the only team to beat Stanford this year, was upset by 14th-seeded Nebraska in four sets in Seattle.

Unseeded BYU knocked off sixth-seeded Florida State in four sets and will meet the Cornhuskers on Saturday.

Defending national champions Penn State, seeded fifth, swept UCLA and will meet Big 10 rival Wisconsin, the fourth seed, which survived a five-setter with unseeded Ohio State.

Second-seeded Texas swept Colorado State and will meet seventh-seeded North Carolina, which swept Oregon.

— Palo Alto Online Sports

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