Denver Battles Stanford but Comes Up Short

Photo: Photo compliments gostanford.com. DU earns more than a moral victory at Stanford in 3-0 loss.

In all the well earned hysteria over DU men’s soccer, women’s volleyball (23-9) proved they are on the verge of taking the program to the next level. Just like last year, they won the conference regular season title, won the Summit League Tournament, lost in a tune-up to (#71/RPI) Long Beach State and lost in the first round of the NCAA’s 0-3.

So what is different?

This year’s squad showed that they are on the cusp of taking it to the next level, especially the last two matches of the season against Long Beach State and last night against #6 seed Stanford (22-7) in Palo Alto, California.

At Longbeach, they won the third set and pushed the 49’ers on the first two sets (20-25, 19-25) of the match to signal that this year’s Pioneer squad would not back down. While it was only a one set win for DU, it signaled a more competitive team, able to match up against some of volleyball’s most accomplished programs.

Last night at a hostile Maples Pavillion against the nation’s 6th seeded team, DU played a strong 3-set match. In set 1, DU started well by hanging even with the Cardinal 8-8 in the opening minutes until Stanford’s massive front line took over with kills by super freshman (6’6″) Kathryn Plumber and teammates (6’3″) Inky Ajanaku and (6’4″) Ivana Vanjak blew the set open with front-line kills and coasted to a 25-12 win over DU.

DU relaxed and adjusted the next two sets.

In set 2, DU came out with a 4-0 run to take the lead. DU held the lead until Stanford knotted the score at a dozen on another kill by Inky Ajanaku. A kill from DU’s Kayla Principato held DU’s advantage at 15-13 and the score was deadlocked at 17-17. Then, despite several kills by DU’s Becca Latham, the Cardinal began to pull away with their power game, led by Plumber, Ajanaku, and Vanjak again to escape a close 19-22 game and pull away to a 22-25 win over Denver.

In the final set, Denver kept up the fight, gaining confidence from the first two sets. DU started out hot again with a 3-1 advantage over the home team. Nola Bassey and Becca Latham kills tied the score at 6-6. A confident Pioneer squad traded points with Stanford and drew even, 17-17, on a Stanford error. A Stanford kill and DU service error gave Stanford some breathing room to pull out to a 19-21 advantage. Again, super sophomore Kathryn Plumber had bookend kills with another kill in between by her teammate Inky Ajanaku to pull away to a third set victory, 20-25, over a determined Pioneer squad.

Sure it was another 0-3 first-round NCAA defeat but DU is closer to taking the ‘next step’ than ever before. The separation between elite programs and Denver is starting to close – DU women’s volleyball showed they can compete at the highest level. The Pioneers gave the Stanford Cardinal a solid challenge.

Last night Creighton women’s volleyball knocked out #5 Kansas in the first round. Next year, it could be DU with the surprise.