Under-the-Radar Denver volleyball faces Stanford in NCAA Tournament action

This weekend is big, right? Sure Colorado College is down but they want that Gold Pan and regional respect. Expect an all-out effort from the Tigers. On the pitch, DU’s men’s soccer team can go where no other DU soccer team has ever gone if they beat Clemson in the NCAA Quarterfinals and advancing to the final four in Houston.

But let’s not forget about DU volleyball which has gone 23-8 on the year and are gearing up for another NCAA Tournament.

First-year head coach Tom Hogan and his Pioneers travel to Palo Alto Friday to take on the 6th-seeded Stanford Cardinal (21-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This year marks DU’s third consecutive conference championship and third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament for the most accomplished senior class in DU volleyball history – Nola Basey, Moni Corrujedo, Monique Domme, Kelly Morton, and Ruth Okoye. This match will include four Denver seniors playing to extend their careers to at least one more match. The Pioneers have also posted their third consecutive 20+ win seasons and carry a sterling 94-36 4-year record.

The Cardinal are one of the blue-bloods of the sport with 6 national titles and will be playing at home.  As if that wasn’t enough, the Pioneers will be challenged by Stanford’s size and power. The Cardinal are led by a freshman phenom,  6’6″ Kathryn Plummer, with 343 kills. Four other Stanford players have over 200+ kills – 6’3″ Inky Ajanaku , 6’6″ Audriana Fitzmorris , 6’8″ Merete Lutz, and 6’4″ Ivanka Vanjak . All five players lead Stanford in blocks as well. Setter Jenna Gray sets up the massive front line with 891 assists for this season.

Stanford outside hitter Kathryn Plummer was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year while two Stanford players made All-Pac-12 Conference Team – Ajanaku and Lutz.

Stanford sits at #11 in the RPI while Denver sits at 110 out of the 334 Division I programs. Nonetheless, winning conference championships and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament is a huge accomplishment. Puck Swami had it right when he said winning a set against the Cardinal will be a true accomplishment and another sign of program progress, especially in Palo Alto. Also, scoring 20 or more points in at least two sets will reflect progress as well.

Longer term, Denver is on the cusp of national relevance in the sport if the program makes several tweaks. Many of the best players and programs for volleyball are in the Midwest. Denver can build on their resume by playing more regional power programs in the Midwest like Creighton, Kansas, Nebraska, Kansas State, Wichita State, and others during their non-conference schedule. If DU can recruit regional and local premier prep talent and size (they just signed local product 6’7″ Jaden Sandoval), they have the opportunity to take the next step. DU soccer followed this formula to success and DU volleyball can and should do the same.

The match is set for Friday night @ 8:00 PM MT and will be live-streamed on DenverPioneers.com.