Jenna Gray kept it simple and that led to a series of well-placed serves that highlighted fourth-ranked and No. 1 seed Stanford's deceptive 25-14, 25-15, 25-9 victory over No. 23 Colorado State in the second round of the NCAA women's volleyball championships on Saturday night.
Gray had to settle herself down when she took her turn behind the service line.
Audriana Fitzmorris/ Stanford Athletics
Gray recorded all four of her service aces on four consecutive swings to help the Cardinal (28-3) extend a lead hat was getting out of hand as it was.
Stanford hosts Wisconsin (22-9) in the Sweet 16, a team it needed five sets to beat last year en route to the national title. The Badgers were 11-9 in the Big 10 but are 11-0 outside of the conference. They knocked off No. 14 Iowa State in straight sets to advance.
"They're a tough matchup for Iowa State," Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. "I'm not surprised by the result. Wisconsin has a 6-8 middle. It's a team that has probably gotten better."
Hambly, who coached at Illinois last year, may know a little about about Wisconsin, one of six Big 10 teams to advance to the Sweet 16, but not enough to feel comfortable. It's a younger team and seems to be coming together at the right time.
"We'll be looking at them with fresh eyes," Hambly said.
Utah and Texas are also in the bracket, both teams Stanford knows well. The Cardinal swept the series with the Utes and beat the Longhorns in last year's championship.
Wisconsin has Stanford's attention for now. Having been through the tournament ringer once before, the Cardinal understands how it all works.
"You have to focus on one game at a time," Gray said. "The level of play is always going to be higher and you have to focus on the game plan."
Gray collected 35 assists and was in on seven blocks. Stanford recorded 16 team blocks, a clear indication the Cardinal was in the right place at the right time.
Audriana Fitzmorris, who added a pair of aces and eight kills on 14 swings, was also in on seven blocks and said all the hard work of covering the middle has been paying off.
Fitzmorris and Gray are both products of St. James Academy in Kansas and with the NCAA Final Four being held in Kansas City, it adds a little extra motivation for them.
"It's in the back of our minds," Fitzmorris said. "It's a great opportunity to play at hoime but we can't get there unless we take care of things one match at a time."
As seniors, Gray and Fitzmorris helped the Thunder win the state title. The Thunder lost their first match of the year and then won 46 straight. In the state title match, Gray actually recorded more kills (14) than Fitzmorris (12).
Sophomore Kathryn Plummer led the charge against the Rams with 14 kills on .600 hitting. She had a match-high 17 points, with Fitzmorris adding 13.5, Gray at 10.5 and Meghan McClure with nine points on eight kills and a service ace. Libero Morgan Hentz had 11 digs.
One of the highlights of the match had to be when Kate Formico, in her role as a defensive specialist, recorded a dig and a kill on the same play. She ranged far to her right to save a ball and accidentally hit it too hard in trying to get it to Gray. It sailed over the net and found a spot void of Rams for the point.