The importance of beating Arizona on Wednesday night will be made more clear Friday night should the eighth-ranked Stanford women's volleyball team can find a way to beat host No. 6 Arizona State in a Pac-12 Conference match.
With so many conference teams embedded in the AVCA Top 25, each week can be a struggle and each setback magnified. The Cardinal (2-1 in the Pac-12, 8-3 overall) survived a marathon five-setter to beat the Wildcats and put itself in position to remain among the elite of the Pac-12. A victory over the Sun Devils (2-0, 13-0) would do a lot to tighten up the race and send a message that Stanford won't be easily knocked aside.
Arizona State is one of three undefeated teams in the conference, along with USC and Washington, and all three are ranked ahead of the Cardinal. Arizona, UCLA and Oregon are also among the nation's top 25.
The Sun Devils are one of the top defensive teams in the conference, allowing opponents to hit a mere .108, just behind Washington's .107. Stanford ranks ninth at .192. It's a sign that the conference is so tight that all it takes is a play here or there to make a difference in the win column.
Friday's match features the Pac-12's top two blocking teams. The Cardinal lead with a 3.10 average per set and the Sun Devils are next at 3.09.
The teams are also similar in that no one player carries the load. Marcy Gardner, with 3.48 kills per set, ranks tenth in the conference. Stanford does not have anyone in the top 10 but Hayley Hodson (3.34), Brittany Howard (3.10) and Merete Lutz (3.03) are bunched just out of the leaders.
The Cardinal, which opened the conference season with three road matches among its first four match, returns home to host Oregon State and Oregon next weekend.
Men's water polo
No. 2 Stanford has an important Mountain Pacific Sports Federation game at USC on Saturday, one that could possibly affect who makes the NCAA Final Four and who stays home.
The Cardinal (11-1) opens conference play against the third-ranked Trojans (10-1) at 10:30 a.m., who will have a bit of revenge on their minds. Stanford handed USC its lone loss, 6-5, at the NorCal Invitational.
A second win over the Trojans would give the Cardinal an inside track over them should it come down to an at-learge bid into the Final Four. The Trojans beat Stanford, 12-11, in last year's national semifinal.
There's also the Bret Bonanni watch. The senior All-American and national team member has 309 career goals, 23 shy of matching Tony Azevedo for the all-time lead at Stanford and in the MPSF.
Bonanni is one of three Cardinal players who have scored in all 12 matches thus far. He's joined by Adam Abdulhamid (35 goals) and Mitchell Mendoza (22). Seven others have scored at least 10 goals, with Reid Chase at 18.
No. 5 Stanford continues Pac-12 play on the road this weekend when it travels to Arizona State and No. 17 Arizona.
The Cardinal (7-2, 1-0 Pac-12) opens its weekend against the Sun Devils (4-4, 0-1 Pac-12) on Friday at 7 p.m. (PT) before taking on the Wildcats (7-1-1, 1-0 Pac-12) on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Stanford is coming off a 4-1 conference-opening win at Utah this past weekend. Kyra Carusa scored the first two goals of her collegiate career, including the game-winner, to propel the Cardinal past the Utes. Averie Collins and Ryan Walker-Hartshorn added a goal apiece, while Jane Campbell made three saves in goal.
Stanford moved up to No. 5 in the NSCAA/Continental Tire coaches' poll after being ranked eighth a week ago. The Cardinal is No. 10 in the Soccer America rankings and No. 9 in the TopDrawerSoccer rankings.
Arizona State received a vote in the NSCAA/Continental Tire coaches' poll, while Arizona was ranked No. 17.
Stanford is No. 8 in RPI after debuting at No. 5 in the first ranking of the season last week. The Cardinal has taken on three of the top six teams in the RPI poll, including Penn State (No. 2), BYU (No. 4) and Santa Clara (No. 6).
Stanford leads the all-time series 11-4-3. Stanford won last year's meeting 2-0 but the Sun Devils' 1-0 victory at No. 2 Stanford on Oct. 6, 2013, ended Stanford's 73-match home unbeaten streak the second-longest in NCAA Division I history and the Cardinal's 44-match conference-winning streak, which remains the No. 3 streak in NCAA history. Chioma Ubogagu scored twice in last year's meeting to secure the 2-0 victory.
Stanford has not allowed more than two goals in a match over its past 243 contests, not since a 4-0 loss to North Carolina on Sept. 11, 2005, in San Francisco. During that stretch, Stanford allowed two goals 25 times.