Stanford Cardinal catching fire
Also: Florida State cross country teams running toward titles
Lookout volleyball world: Stanford is on fire, and foes will have a difficult time trying to cool off the Cardinal during the next few weeks.
The No. 1 Cardinal women’s volleyball team is on a 22-match winning streak – the program’s longest single-season streak since 1998 -- and boasts a 16-0 mark in Pac-12 Conference play with just four regular-season games remaining.
Since opening the season with a 1-2 record after losses to Penn State and Hawaii, Stanford has been impenetrable, beating top-10 teams like Oregon and Washington twice each and turning back UCLA and USC in one October weekend.
Still unbeaten after all of those tough conference tests, the Cardinal are eyeing the league’s first perfect record since 2003. That season, USC claimed the Pac-10 title with an 18-0 record and the NCAA championship after posting a 35-0 mark.
Stanford has notched an unbeaten record three times in league history (1991, 1995, 1997), each time going 18-0. The 1997 squad went on the win the national title.
The Cardinal will also be seeking their 15th conference crown, and first since winning five consecutive championships between 2006-10.
While Stanford concludes the season in two weeks with Pac-12 newcomers Colorado and Utah, who have combined for a 7-25 league record to date. The Cardinal’s immediate challenge is traveling south to No. 8 USC on Thursday and No. 5 UCLA on Friday for back-to-back matches against top-10 opponents.
Another note on the Stanford team that is truly impressive is the majority of Stanford’s starters and main contributors are freshmen – outside hitter Jordan Burgess, setter Madi Bugg, middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, outside hitter Brittany Howard and Megan McGehee.
Stanford's five freshmen have accounted for 54 percent of the team's kills and 47 percent of the team's digs this season. Burgess, Ajanaku and Howard rank second, third and fourth on the squad in kills per set, respectively, while Bugg tops the team with 8.08 assists per set.
It looks like the Cardinal’s winning train will not be making any sudden stops in the near future.
• No. 1 North Dakota State will be vying for an outright Missouri Valley Football Conference title when the Bison meet No. 11 Illinois State in the FCS regular-season finale on Saturday. NDSU has already clinched a share of the title with a 6-1 mark in league play, but ISU (5-2) will be battling for its own share and second league championship in program history, and first since 1999. South Dakota and Indiana State – both also 5-2 in the MVFC – can claim a co-championship with an Illinois State victory.
• Keep your eyes on the Division II men’s basketball match-up between No. 5 Metro State and No. 7 Winona State on Friday. The Roadrunners opened the season with a 75-54 victory against Minot State highlighted by Mitch MaCarron’s 21 points in his career debut, and will travel to Winona for the top-10 showdown. The Warriors began the season strong with a 3-0 mark at the Disney Classic. Senior Clayton Vette is averaging 20.3 points per game, and has led the Warriors in rebounds in all three contests.
• The No. 1 USC men's water polo team will be seeking perfection on Saturday when the undefeated Trojans play host to rival UCLA -- the nation's No. 2 team -- in their regular-season finale at McDonald's Swim Stadium. The Trojans have compiled a 23-0 overall record and 7-0 mark in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play entering the contest against the Bruins. Following the final regular-season game, the Trojans will host the MPSF Tournament and the NCAA tournament, potentially giving them five postseason matches at their home pool.
• Montana and Montana State will meet for the 112th time in the “Brawl of the Wild” on Saturday in Missoula. Montana State can clinch at least a share of the regular-season title with a victory and a third consecutive bid in the FCS playoffs, while Montana (5-5) needs a win to avoid its first losing season since 1985. The Bobcats have posted only two wins on the road in the series since 1985, including the last time the two squads met in Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 2010.
Montana State (9-1, 6-1) is one of four teams that can claim at least a share of the Big Sky regular-season title on Saturday. Three other programs – Cal Poly, Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona – also boasts 6-1 league records and are tied with Bobcats on top of the Big Sky standings.
• The Arkansas Fort Smith women’s volleyball team moved up one spot to No. 23 in the latest AVCA Division II Top 25 Poll as the Lady Lions head into the Heartland Conference Championship this weekend. After posting a perfect 14-0 mark in league play, the Lady Lions will host the league tournament as the No. 1 seed. UAFS is the first Heartland team to go undefeated in conference action since 2006.
The Lady Lions begin tournament play against No. 4 seed Texas-A&M International on Friday. The conference champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in the South Central region.
• The UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team is off to a 6-0 start – the Blugolds' best opening since the 2008-09 season – and moved up to No. 8 in the latest USCHO.com Division III rankings. UW-Eau Claire, however, will face its toughest challenge of the season when it travels to No. 3 St. Norbert for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.
While the Blugolds are producing 4.67 goals per game, the Green Knights will counter with a stingy defense. SNC has allowed just five goals on the season for a 0.71 goals against average, while notching four shutouts in six games.
• The Florida State men’s and women’s cross country squads were certainly prepared for last week’s South Regional meet as all 14 Seminoles – seven men and seven women – came home with a medal. The 14 runners also each earned USTFCCCA All-Region honors – the most of any school this season.
At Saturday’s NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., both teams will be seeking their first national title in cross country. The18th-ranked men have a high finish of second place in 2010. The women’s team, which is ranked No. 1 heading into the weekend, was the NCAA runner-up in 2009 and 2010.
• One of the most anticipated early season meetings in Division I women’s basketball will be on Friday when No. 4 Stanford and No. 1 Baylor clash at the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu. The game is a rematch of last year’s national semifinal game in Denver, which the Lady Bears won 59-47.
Baylor, the defending national champion, opened the season with an 80-34 win against Lamar last Friday before downing No. 6 Kentucky 85-51 Tuesday night. Reigning national player of the year Britney Griner scored 27 points against the Wildcats leading the Bears to their 42nd consecutive win.
Stanford junior Chiney Ogwumike is averaging 22.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in the Cardinal’s first two wins of the season.
• Representing the women’s soccer U.S. National Team, Northeastern’s Kendall Coyne scored a game-winning shorthanded goal in the title game to lead the Americans to a 3-0 victory aginst Canada as they captured the 2012 Four Nations Cup. Coyne was named Team USA’s Player of the Game for her efforts.
On Friday, Coyne and No. 9 Northeastern will travel to No. 5 Boston College. Coyne leads the Huskies with 12 goals and nine assists for 21 points on the season, despite missing a two-game series with Vermont last weekend.
• DePauw is headed to the Division III Field Hockey Championship semifinals for the first time after shocking No. 1 Middlebury with a 2-1 overtime victory in the quarterfinals last Saturday.
During the regular season, goalkeeper Maggie Steele was pretty lonely on her end of the field as the Tigers outshot opponents 281-26, but action has definitely heated up in the NCAA tournament. After making only needing to make 17 saves in 20 regular-season games, Steele has made 18 saves in the postseason, including 13 against Middlebury. Steele enters the weekend with a 0.54 goals against average.
The Tigers’ only loss of the season was a 3-2 setback to Lynchburg. They will face Tufts in the semifinals on Saturday.
• Albion senior receiver Brian Spencer concluded his football career with bang – catching a school-record 16 passes for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his team’s 28-20 loss to Hope last Saturday. Spencer didn't have much time to reflect on the end of his collegiate playing career, however, as he performed in a concert with the Euphonics, a college a capella singing group that night.
Dr. Andrew French, a chemistry professor at Albion caught the singing performance, and posted on his Facebook page, “Imagine my amazement!! After catching 16 passes on Albion's last game of the football season, what was Brian Spencer doing tonight with his favorite offensive lineman, Andrew White? Why, Singing with the Euphonics at the sing off tonight! I LOVE teaching at a Liberal Arts college!!” Albion finished the season with a 6-4 record.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy