Cardinal women's volleyball team opens Pac-10 play | September 26, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 26, 2008

Cardinal women's volleyball team opens Pac-10 play

by Rick Eymer

If conferences were ranked for overall athletic performance, the Pac-10 would be a runaway winner. The expectations are higher in more sports within the four-state region on the west coast than anywhere else in the country.

For women, fall sports such as volleyball, soccer and cross country are great examples. Four of the top five nationally ranked cross-country teams hail from the Pac-10, as well as three of the top six in soccer and six of the top 11 in volleyball.

The volleyball team opens conference play on Friday against visiting Oregon State at 7 p.m. and then hosts No. 11 Oregon on Saturday, also at 7 p.m. The combined records of the two Oregon schools are 22-3. And the Beavers are unranked.

All 10 schools have a winning nonconference record and the Pac-10 is a combined 93-19 (.830 winning percentage, rivaled only by Foluke Akinradewo's hitting percentage). Only two schools have as many as four losses and no one else has more than two.

"The next 10 weeks are going to be a challenge each time we play," Stanford junior setter Joanna Evans said. "Every match is that much more important across the board and the focus will be a lot more intense. We have to prepare for each team even more than we have in the past."

The sixth-ranked Cardinal (9-2) is one of the elite programs in the most elite of conferences. Half the roster has appeared in two national championship matches, and Stanford boosts of three returning All-Americans in outside hitters Cynthia Barboza and Alix Klineman and middle blocker Akinradewo, the reigning national Player of the Year.

Akinradewo is fourth in the nation with her .442 hitting percentage, and Evans has been has been a part of that.

Evans and Cassidy Lichtman share setter duties in Stanford's 6-2 offense. This is her first experience with it.

"Communication is the No. 1 thing," she said. "Each hitter is a little different and you work with them, make adjustments to them. With so many great hitters it's a diverse offense."

Evans developed her sense of the college game with the help of All-American Bryn Kehoe the past two years. It's made a difference in the way she's adapted to different players.

"Setters talk a lot and we talked before and during matches," Evans said. "I can see things on the side that can help her. It's a different perspective and things change all the time."

Stanford has never lost to Oregon State in 46 matches but that's no comfort for the Cardinal, which noted that the Beavers knocked off 13th-ranked Wisconsin last weekend.

"It's not surprising their program has improved," Evans said. "It's what we expected them to do. It doesn't matter who is who in the top 10 because the top 50 teams are good."

Akinradewo is on pace to set the NCAA career hitting percentage record (currently at .442) and has recorded six or more blocks in four of the past five matches.

She's also one of three Cardinal players with at least 100 kills on the season along with Klineman (107) and Barboza, the team leader with 113.

As in volleyball, so too does Pac-10 women's soccer feature all 10 teams with winning nonconference marks. The conference owns a combined 57-16-9 record (.780) entering play this weekend.

"I think the Pac-10 is underrated," Stanford junior forward Kelley O'Hara said. "With so many national contenders it's a difficult league and a difficult schedule."

Defending national champion USC beat UCLA in the NCAA championship match, and Stanford is the defending conference champion.

The sixth-ranked Cardinal (8-0-1) can hold its own, outscoring its opponents by a 26-3 margin after nine games. At this time last year, Stanford was 8-1 and held a 19-6 scoring advantage.

The team is on pace to become at least the second most prolific goal scoring team in school history to the 67 scored by the 1993 Final Four team. The 2002 team that finished 21-1-1 scored 55 goals.

O'Hara and sophomore Christen Press, last year's top two scorers, combined for 17 goals and 45 points. They have already combined for 11 goals and 30 points this year.

O'Hara, a preseason All-American pick and member of the U.S. national under-20 team, said the addition of freshmen like Palo Alto grad Teresa Noyola and Castilleja grad Lindsay Taylor has made it easier for her.

"Our attack is so dynamic and has made it exciting to play," O'Hara said. "The freshmen have a lot to do with that. There are so many people who can score it's difficult for a team to defend us. They can't gang up on one player."

O'Hara has been the target of such defenses the past two years. Taylor and Noyola have already combined to send nine balls into the back of the net, taking advantage of opponents' early-season marking of O'Hara.

With the added firepower, Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe doesn't worry as much about where the offense will come from.

"In the past we've had to rely on one or two players," he said. "If someone had an off day, that was it. Now we have a lot of weapons, making it harder to stop us. We have at least five players who are capable of scoring multiple goals in a game."

The offense has also helped defensively. Not only does holding onto the ball help, it's also a motivation.

"When you keep the ball you don't have to play defense," spoke O'Hara like a true forward. "When you know you can score goals it helps you to relax and not to worry. As a forward my job is to score but it's also nice to have two other forwards. We're pulling it together. I don't have to force a shot either. I can pass it off to someone else in a better position."


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