It's another crazy year in Pac-12 volleyball and the team that can hold onto its sanity the longest may just survive conference play intact.
No. 7 Stanford dropped a 26-24, 20-25, 25-23, 25-19 decision to visiting Utah on Sunday and there's no easy explanation.
The Cardinal (4-2 Pac-12, 10-4 overall) had a chance to move into a three-way tie for first in the conference but will instead enter next weekend's play in a four-way tie for third.
The Pac-12 didn't just wake up scrambled. It's been this way for a while. The craziness has just reached new heights. Stanford lost its third home match of the season by losing to the Utes for the first time since 2000.
How often does the Cardinal lose at home? Seldom, as is almost never. In fact, Stanford has lost more than three matches at home in a season exactly twice, in 2011 and 1989, and has never lost more than four.
Other teams in the conference are not immune. Stanford won at Washington, and the Huskies turned around and won at Oregon. UCLA swept Utah in Salt Lake City and then lost at home to Arizona.
California, coached by Palo Alto grad Rich Feller, even got into the act, beating No. 19 Colorado on Sunday to record its first conference victory. Woodside grad Christine Alftin matched a career-high with 16 digs and added 13 kills in the win.
Stanford hopes to find the right combination soon or it may soon find itself hanging out with the Buffaloes, Beavers and Bears, oh my.
"Utah, Colorado and Washington State are teams on the rise," Cardinal coach John Dunning said. "We're all very close and the losses at home, we haven't seen that before. It's exciting and it's frustrating."
Inky Ajanaku plays the front row as though she invented the middle blocker position. She's never been needed in the back row and now she's serving, playing a rotation in the back. Kathryn Plummer, also a natural in the front row, rotated through the back row for the first time in Friday's win over Colorado.
Ajanaku and Plummer are highly-skilled athletes, but there's a big learning curve for them in the back. Stanford's passing game was all out of whack against the Utes, which played into Utah's hands and it was able to take advantage of easy opportunities.
"Since day one we've had had a lot to learn as a team," Dunning said. "We go down one path and something else comes up. We think we've worked on things and then this match showed us something else. We're going to have to figure it out."
All-American Hayley Hodson is a classic volleyball player in the sense that she's amazingly productive no matter where she is on the court. With her out for the remainder of the season, it's as though Stanford has to replace three positions.
Halland McKenna and Morgan Hentz are as good defensively as anyone but having to make up for Hodson's loss only adds to the pressure.
Redshirt junior Merete Lutz led the Cardinal with 13 kills on .345 hitting and nine blocks. Ajanaku added 11 kills, hitting .474, and recording nine blocks, three digs and an ace. Audriana Fitzmorris posted 12 kills and three blocks.
Redshirt junior Ivana Vanjaktotaled nine kills on .316 hitting, while Plummer totaled six kills, 12 digs and a career-high two aces.
Maddie Bauer scored her first goal of the year in the 103rd minute to lift No. 1 Stanford to a 3-2 double-overtime victory at No. 10 UCLA on Sunday afternoon.
The senior center defender was instrumental in the Cardinal's (11-1-1, 4-1 Pac-12) effort to limit the Bruins' (9-3-1, 3-1-1 Pac-12) prolific offense but it was her finish on a loose ball following a corner kick that gave Stanford its third top-10 victory of the season.
California took over the Pac-12 lead after beating host USC, 1-0, in another conference match Sunday. The Bears are 4-0-1 (11-2-1) while the Trojans dropped to 4-1 (10-3).
Andi Sullivan, a MAC Hermann Trophy candidate, provided the service on the game-winning goal, sending a quality corner kick into a dangerous area of the box. The ball bounced around before Bauer provided the finishing touch.
Sullivan had an outstanding game in the midfield and scored the Cardinal's first goal of the game; her fifth of the year. She also made a crucial defensive play in the 93rd minute, clearing a UCLA shot off the Stanford goal line to preserve a 2-2 tie in the first overtime period.
It was a well-earned result for Stanford, which controlled a majority of the run of play and held advantages in shots (19-12), shots on goal (9-6) and corner kicks (8-3).
Jane Campbell returned to goal after serving a one-game suspension due to a red card and made her presence known, making crucial saves in important moments multiple times throughout the match. She finished the game with four saves.
Megan Turner, Michelle Xiao and Kyra Carusa were active up front for the Cardinal, creating heavy pressure for the Bruins' defense. Turner assisted Sullivan's goal, while Xiao and Carusa teamed up for Stanford's second.
Xiao scored her third goal of the season, while Carusa notched her team-leading seventh assist of the year. Turner registered her third assist of the season – the most assists in a single season in her career. Turner has set single-seaosn career-highs in goals (5), assists (3) and points (13) this season.
Stanford faced its second deficit of the year early in the first half when UCLA's Amber Munerlyn finished an opportunity from the right side of the penalty box to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
The deficit did not last long, however, as the Cardinal responded with an equalizer less than two minutes later. Stanford sent a corner kick into the box that the goalkeeper punched away. Megan Turner got the ball to Sullivan who put the opportunity away to level the score at, 1-1.
It was Sullivan's fifth goal of the season, matching her previous single-season career-high set a year ago. The goal also gave her 14 points this season, the most in a single season in Sullivan's career. It was Turner's third assist of the year – a single-season career-high.
The Cardinal fed off the momentum created by the equalizing goal and dominated the remainder of the half. Stanford finished the half with advantages in shots (9-4), shots on goal (5-2) and corner kicks (6-0).
Stanford continued its momentum in the second half with a pair of quality opportunities in the first six minutes but both sailed just over the crossbar.
Stanford was rewarded for its constant pressure in the 63rd when Xiao converted her third shot of the game to give the Cardinal a 2-1 lead. Kyra Carusa earned her team-leading seventh assist of the season.
The Cardinal faced a period of consistent pressure from UCLA following the goal as the Bruins pushed forward to try to find the equalizer. Jane Campbell made a pair of quality saves in the 68th and 70th minutes, and the Cardinal defense did well to manage the increased pressure.
Stanford nearly secured the regulation victory but UCLA's Jessie Flemming scored in the 86th minute to level the score at 2-2 and send the game to overtime.
Both teams had opportunities in the first overtime period but could not find the finishing touch.
UCLA managed a header at the start of the second overtime period that went over the crossbar before Bauer finished her opportunity at the other end to secure the victory for the Cardinal.
Bruins freshman Jacey Pederson, a Palo Alto grad, has appeared in eight matches, with one start, this season.
Stanford will look to continue its momentum when it travels to Oregon State next Friday at 7 p.m.
Men's water polo
No. 5 Stanford men's water polo scored the match's first four goals and sophomore Blake Parrish recorded a hat trick in the first half as the Cardinal cruised to a 15-3 victory over San Jose State Sunday afternoon at Avery Aquatic Center.
Sunday's victory was Stanford's fifth straight. The Cardinal, which also defeated San Jose State earlier this season, improved to 11-2 overall on the season.
Parrish finished with four goals in the contest, while Mitchell Mendoza (2), Kyle Weikert (2) and Harrison Enright (2) also recorded multiple scores for the Cardinal.
Parrish opened the scoring in the match with a goal in the final two minutes of the first quarter. He scored on a fast break midway through the second period and closed the first half with his third goal of the contest. His fourth and final score – the opening goal of the second half – came off a nice feed from Weikert right in front of the goal.
Mendoza capped the scoring, recording his second goal of the contest off a penalty shot with less than two minutes remaining in the contest.
Stanford held the Spartans scoreless for the first nine minutes of the match, before Finn Pardon broke through for San Jose State in the second quarter.
Junior Oliver Lewis started the match in the cage for Stanford, posting four saves before handing it over to freshman Andrew Chun in the second half. Chun registered five saves in the cage, stopping a San Jose State penalty shot attempt.
Stanford returns to action Oct. 22, when the Cardinal travels south the face UC Santa Barbara at 1 p.m.
A solid team effort led the 18th-ranked Cardinal to a 3-0 win over conference rival, and the top-scoring team in the nation, Pacific on Sunday at Varsity Turf. The Cardinal win streak moves to six as it snaps Pacific's nine-game streak as well as handing the Tigers their first shutout of the season.
The first half saw the Cardinal (7-4, 3-0 America East) come out to control the tempo of the game by dominating possession. The Cardinal attack put up six shots to Pacific's four, with leading scorer, Jessica Welch striking first in the ninth minute of action with a move to the top of the circle before cranking a shot that went top shelf on Pacific's Laura Pujade to make it 1-0 headed into the half.
"I'm pleased with this group," Stanford coach Tara Danielson said. "There was a total team commitment to sticking to the game plan. I'm proud of our team's effort to work for each other and finish the play."
The second half saw the Tigers (9-4, 0-1 AE) start pushing more, but the Stanford defense was steadfast in protecting the Cardinal goal as it allowed only six shots and zero goals to the top-scoring team in the NCAA. The offense also clicked into high gear, utilizing possession and putting shots on target to put the Tigers back on their heels.
Lucy Dikeou struck in the 41st minute of play for her first career goal as Fran Tew set up a cross that Dikeou laid out for to tip into the goal to make it 2-0. A solid influx of subs kept the Cardinal fresh throughout the half as Marissa Cicione and Kristina Bassi set up Casey Deeds in the 49th minute to put the nail in the coffin and pull the score to its final of 3-0.
The Cardinal will return to action next Sunday as the rematch is set to face Pacific in conference action. Stanford will travel to face the Tigers at 2 p.m. in Stockton.