Sports

Second-ranked Stanford women a big hit in Pac-12 volleyball

 
Merete Lutz recorded 13 kills and hit .688 in Stanford's three-set victory over visiting Oregon. Photo by Mike Rasay/isiphotos.com.

Hitting percentage equals efficiency and efficiency is how Stanford senior Merete Lutz measures her volleyball success. It's also an important statistic for coach Kevin Hambly, though for a different reason.

Lutz recorded 13 kills on 16 total attacks, with a couple of errors thrown in, on .688 hitting and the second-ranked Cardinal swept visiting No. 16 Oregon, 25-14, 25-18, 25-14, in a Pac-12 Conference match Sunday.


Audriana Fitzmorris
"I care about it because I like being as efficient as possible," said Lutz, the only senior on the roster. "I don't like making errors either. We don't talk about it per se but we do talk about avoiding stupid mistakes."

There haven't have been many of those this season as Stanford (21-2, 14-0) maintains a healthy four-game lead over second-place USC with six matches left on the regular-season, including Wednesday night against Washington in Seattle.

The Huskies (19-6, 9-5) are one of three teams tied for third as the teams try to jostle for higher seeding concerns come the NCAA tournament. The Pac-12 will get at least six and possibly eight into the tournament if things break right.

Lutz, one of four players hitting at above the median for the season, likes her chances of an outright conference title in her final year at Stanford.

"I attribute the hitting success to our passing," Lutz said. "We've put a lot of work into our passing and setting up opportunities to attack."

She's been around five years and has had to share the only Pac-12 title won in her tenure. She has a national title but wants to add a conference title before worrying about the NCAA championship.

"It's crazy. This is one of the few years where we could clinch early," Lutz said. "It's not usually like this. It would be awesome and we've definitely talked about that."

Conference titles are fine but Hambly wants the Cardinal to keep pushing toward a bigger goal.

"We care about the Pac-12 but we want to go after national titles," Hambly said on a day the school honored retired coach John Dunning, who led Stanford to last year's national title. "We're still doing things with the tournament in mind."

As for the hitting percentage, Hambly pointed to a direct correlation between that stat and winning. It's not just Stanford's hitting percentage but the opponents hitting percentage as well.

"If we can do a good job serving than we can be more efficient," Hambly said. "When you talk about hitting percentage, I point to Oregon hitting .421 in the second set. That's unacceptable. We want to hold teams in the .150-.160 range. We had to hit .484 to beat them in that set and we want to rely on defense."

Stanford entered the weekend ranked seventh in the nation in hitting percentage at .306. The Cardinal raised that to .317 after winning twice this past weekend. That would put it fourth if everything else stayed the same.

Penn State leads the nation with its .349 hitting percentage and the Nittany Lions also happen to be the top-rankled team in the nation.

In fact, 17 of the top 25 teams also rank among the top 25 in hitting percentage. Only six ranked teams are among the top 25 in opponents hitting percentage.

"We're still missing things and they matter too much to ignore," Hambly said. "It's about team defense."

Stanford hit .519 against the Ducks, its second-best to .549 against California. Kathryn Plummer had 14 kills and hit .385, freshman Meghan McClure recorded 10 kills and hit .368, Audriana Fitzmorris had seven kills and .636 hitting percentage. Tami Alade was 5-for-5 on attacks and is currently hitting at a conference best .459.

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