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After following Stanford Women's volleyball for 20 years, I finally went to see them play in a Final Four (their 17th in the 27 years the NCAA has had a tournament). I drove to Sacramento on Thursday afternoon for the two semifinal matches. Stanford took on the University of Southern California in the first match, with Penn State vs. California in the second. Stanford and USC had split their two regular season matches, each winning at home, so it was expected this match at neutral ARCO Arena would be a good one.

In the first game of the best-of-five, USC took game one pretty easily (30-23). Stanford had trouble passing their serves, and couldn't put similar pressure on their defense. Stanford's coach (John Dunning) altered which rotation he started his line-up in for the second game, and Stanford won game two 30-20. That carried over into game three, which was only a little closer, 30-25. But in game four, USC made some adjustments, and Stanford was less effective. They fell behind, and Stanford's setter (Bryn Kehoe) got called for several net violations and mishandled balls, which may have rattled her game. USC won 30-20. So it came down to a decisive game five. The fifth game is only to 15, but you still have to win by two. Stanford got the first point, but then USC went ahead. USC eventually reached match point, 14-13 without ever falling behind (though Stanford had tied several times). On match point, USC's star, Asia Kaczor served long, tying the game. Stanford got a block on USC's hitter that landed just in on USC's side, giving Stanford match-point. On the next play Stanford's hitter Cynthia Barboza tooled a hard hit off the USC block, landing out and giving Stanford the match. Whew!

The whole Stanford team contributed. And today, Stanford's Foluke Akinradewo was named the National Player of the Year - an unusual honor for a middle blocker, and well-deserved.

In the second match Penn State took the first two games. Cal kept it close, but just wasn't getting kills out of their hitters, Angie Pressey and Hana Cutura (the latter had an especially disappointing match). I didn't stay for the third game, but Penn State took that, too. This was Cal's first trip to the Final Four.

So Saturday it is back to Sacramento for the championship match. Go Cardinal!


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April 2014

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