Stanford volleyball tests No. 2 ranking against No. 8 Florida, NCAA champ Texas | September 6, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 6, 2013

Stanford volleyball tests No. 2 ranking against No. 8 Florida, NCAA champ Texas

by Rick Eymer

Homecoming looks to be an early theme with the Stanford women's volleyball schedule this season.

The Cardinal opened its season last week at UC Santa Barbara, the hometown of Stanford senior Carly Wopat.

On Wednesday night, Stanford welcomed home Pacific sophomore setter Kimmy Whitson, a graduate of Palo Alto High.

This weekend, the Cardinal will play Florida and Texas in the Longhorn Invitational. Stanford sophomore Jordan Burgess is from Ft. Myers, Fla. Stanford's Mary Ellen Luck and Merete Lutz also are from the state of Texas.

The Cardinal tuned up for the upcoming trip as Rachel Williams and Brittany Howard each recorded 11 kills, each with a .417 hitting percentage, to help Stanford open its home season with a 25-14, 25-11, 25-14 victory over Pacific on Wednesday.

Whitson had 14 assists and four digs for the Tigers (3-2).

Sophomore Madi Bugg had 36 assists and 11 digs for the nationally No. 2-ranked Cardinal (2-0), which faces its toughest tests of the early season against the No. 8 Gators and the No. 6 Longhorns. Texas also is the defending national champion.

"We're excited to be playing Texas and Florida," Wopat said. "We've been working hard with those matches in mind. We want to see what we can do against them. We're excited about putting ourselves to the test."

Burgess enjoys playing Florida because the Gators were the first team to recruit her.

"When I was a kid I wanted to go to Florida," she said. "It was like my dream."

She ended up at Stanford, while her twin brother Nick goes to Florida. The siblings played a lot of volleyball together in their Florida backyard.

Burgess also was the team captain for the U.S. Junior National Team that played in the World Championships in the Czech Republic over the summer. She also met, and played with, future teammates Kelsey Humphreys and Lutz on the team.

"When I was named team captain, I thought leadership was trying to more things," Burgess said. "I learned it's about embracing everybody else's talent and playing my best."

The experience also helped Burgess return to Stanford as a more confident person, knowing she had that much more of an edge.

"I think every experience with USA is interesting and different," she said. "It's good to get out of your comfort zone. It was a cool experience and a high level experience."

Burgess did not have a great hitting game against Pacific, though she added 10 digs and a pair of blocks.

Kyle Gilbert had a game-high 17 digs, while Wopat added five blocks. Inky Ajanaku had eight kills, five blocks and recorded a .727 hitting percentage.

The crowd of 1,570 fans included most of the football team (Ed Reynolds and Shayne Skov addressed the crowd at the intermission), the men's soccer team, the women's soccer team and a couple of baseball players.

The Pacific men's volleyball team also showed up in full force. The team is trying to drum up support to save its program. Stanford would be directly affected if the program was cut.

Grace Kennedy was the lone Stanford freshman to see any playing action and only as a server.

In Stanford's season opener at UCSB, Wopat made the most of visiting her hometown as she tallied 13 kills, eight blocks and had two digs while hitting .545 as the Cardinal swept the Gauchos, 25-17, 25-23, 25-19 in the Thunderdome.

"It was really exciting for me to play at UCSB," Wopat said after the match. "It is always really nice to come home. I grew up watching sporting events in the Thunderdome. The last time I played in this gym was during high school and we lost in the CIF Championship match my junior. So getting the win was really nice and it was fun to have a lot of family and friends in the stands."


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