Friday, November 23, 2007

Women's Vball vs Cal 11/23/2007

Stanford 3 Cal 2 (30-32, 30-19, 23-30, 30-22, 16-14) With the women's soccer Sweet 16 match against U Conn and the volleyball game both at the same time, Albert decided to go for soccer and I chose volleyball. While soccer was more important, I kind of liked being indoors and it's always fun to go up against Cal, especially with the out-right Pac-10 title and a #1 seed on the line. It was also senior night for Bryn and Franci.

The turnout for the game was tremendous and I saw a couple of signs that said "Will you marry me #10 (Alix)" and "I love you #8 (Cassidy)". They screened a little tribute for the seniors, who were accompanied by their parents onto the court where they received their fair share of hugs from team mates and coaches. Franci was holding back tears and I laughed when they announced that she would be working for Goldman in New York after graduation. That's what a Stanford education gets you! There were also numerous Cal fans (who ruined the national anthem, as usual) in attendance. I thought it was classy that Coach Dunning gave their two seniors flowers as well.

We started slow out of the gate in Game 1 but got it together and managed to get out to a nice 4-5 point lead. With the team playing on the road and our travels to Chicago and Albany for basketball, it's been a while since I last saw us play in person. I noticed that Gabi wasn't serving and Cassidy had entered our main rotation, with Jessica coming in for Alix occasionally. Cassidy had some shaky moments today but I'm all for it, although I have to say that tonight, Jessica was really solid whenever she came in.

I had been selected to do the full court putt for $1000 (which I missed terribly - trying to aim left in order to compensate for the floor which I thought ran right, but ending up pulling it left) in between Games 1 and 2, and so moved out of the Block Party section to the holding area. That was when we started to collapse. Up 28-22, we ended up losing 30-32 thanks to some terrible serve reception and not so great sets. It was reminiscent of Cal's collapse when we played them in Berkeley.

As Albert who joined me after the soccer game commented, how far we go in the NCAAs is dependent on how we receive serves. He's spot on. In the games that we won (2, 4 and 5), we did a pretty good job. In the ones that we lost, we were terrible, and had great trouble with Cal's float serves. The serve mishandlings also came in streaks, which was especially disheartening as it seemed more mental than anything else. There were also times when the timing was off between Bryn and the attacker or she simply made a bad set. She's absolutely crucial to our team's success. Finally, Alix and Franci had some attack errors. When they get one on one opportunities (as they are likely to have with Foluke and Barboza getting a lot of attention), they simply have to put them away.

Defensively, we couldn't stop Hana on the left side even though we knew the ball was going there. It's definitely a testament to how good she is. Even when we managed to get touches on the block, the ferocity of her shots carried them out of our back row's reach. We did a pretty good job on Pressey who whined way too much about phantom touches, and I liked our scrambling defense which won a few points due to sheer hustle. Even though we didn't record a ton of blocks, we managed to get useful touches on everyone but Hana, and Franci had a great night blocking.

Negatives aside, I loved our team's composure. Down 1-2, I knew that the game was far from over. Erin stepped up big time (something she'll have to do in the NCAAs) and Foluke and Cynthia were solid as usual - getting us kills that were absolutely crucial in preventing Cal from gaining the momentum. Alix had a couple of beautiful finesse kills which showed off her touch and court vision too. We also had quite a bit of success with back row kills which speaks to the quality of our hitters. As I mentioned previously, Jessica did a great job when she subbed in for Alix. I remember her coming in at a critical juncture of the 5th game after sitting out the 4th (I believe) and thinking to myself that Dunning had a lot of faith in her. I've been pretty critical of her previously but tonight, I can't remember a single bad pass.

In the end, with the score knotted at 2-2 and Game 5 going back and forth in dramatic fashion, it came down to which team had the stronger nerves and performed better in the clutch. Down 13-14 (match point), Cynthia made a nice pass in a slightly awkward position, Bryn set it right on the money, and Alix took care of the one-on-one opportunity. Alix then came up with two nice jump serves that took Cal slightly out of position for the set and we were able to dig the first one for a Cynthia kill and block the second one for the match. What a win! Full credit to Cal for a terrific match. They'll be a tough team to beat in the tournament.

Now that we've won the Pac-10 and have a #1 seed, we need to take it one game at a time in Maples. And then hopefully, two road trips to Sacramento will be in the offering.
~ Zhihao

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