AMES, Iowa -- No. 1 Stanford advanced to its national-best 19th NCAA semifinal and first since 2008 by knocking off No. 8 Florida, 3-0, Saturday, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. The Cardinal controlled the match from start to finish, earning a date with No. 5 Penn State in Oklahoma City next week.
Stanford (33-1), tied a program record for wins in a season and will now face the defending national champion Nittany Lions Thursday, Dec. 18 on ESPN2 at 9:30 p.m. ET. The two teams each own six national titles, the most of any program in the nation, since the tournament began in 1981. The national championship pits Stanford or Penn State against the winner of the other semifinal, Texas vs. BYU or Nebraska, on Saturday, Dec. 20.
The Cardinal used its usual balanced attack to sweep the Gators, who had advanced with a five-set win over Illinois Friday night. Senior opposite Morgan Boukather and junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess tied for the team-lead with 12 kills, while middle blockers Merete Lutz and Inky Ajanaku added nine apiece. Ajanaku's eight kills of the match marked the 1,000th of her career. She is the 16th Cardinal player to reach that milestone.
“I’d like to say that our passers did a really good job tonight.," said head coach John Dunning. "That’s the first domino that falls over and it fell in our direction. They were great and handled the ball really well.”
Burgess also shined on the defenisve end, registering nine digs. Senior libero Kyle Gilbert led the team with 12 digs, and is one shy of 2,000 for her career. Junior setter Madi Bugg picked up eight digs and had 39 assist and two blocks. Junior outside hitter Brittany Howard finished with six kills on a .312 attack percentage and six digs.
“No one on our team has been to the Final Four, so it will be a new experience for us and it is something that we’ve always strived for this whole time," added Burgess. "We’ve always wanted to win a national championship. Getting past the Elite 8 has been something that has been very hard for us, so we are so excited and super proud of our whole team.”
Stanford overpowered the Gators with a .410 hitting percentage on 50 kills. Five Cardinal hit over .400, including its top four attackers in Boukather, Burgess, Lutz and Ajanaku.
The Gators were put on their heels quickly, as Stanford hit .560, committed just one hitting error and never trailed in the first set. After swinging at .293 in the second set, the Cardinal surged past Florida with a .441 mark in the third.
The Gators were led by sophomore opposite Alex Holston's 18 kills on a .533 attack percentage. Junior outside hitter Gabby Mallette finished with 14 kills on .414 hitting, while senior libero Holly Pole had 17 digs.