Call it a learning experience for the Boise State volleyball program, playing in its first NCAA Tournament. It took the Broncos over a set to find themselves as they battled Stanford in a second-round match at Maples Pavilion on Saturday night.
The sixth-seeded Cardinal swept Boise State 25-11, 25-22, 25-18.
Boise State (26-7) loses one senior, co-captain Maddy O’Donnell, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker.
“This group of girls has been awesome,” said O’Donnell, choking back tears. “I came to Boise State excited to build a program. The girls (coach Shawn Garus) brought in are incredible athletes and people. It has been a great run, and this is the most awesome way to end it. We gave Stanford a battle; at times it was exciting.”
The Broncos saw their 15-match win streak end, but they were up against it with the Cardinal (23-7) owning a major height advantage. Freshman Kathryn Plummer, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, had a match-high 17 kills and hit .342. Opposite Merete Lutz, at 6-8, was tough to deal with at the net, donating eight kills and four blocks. Stanford had 18 block assists and two solo blocks.
“Stanford was fantastic,” Garus said. “We passed pretty well. Our hitters were taking some high swings and Stanford was just playing better. Stanford didn’t give us much room to breathe. Their blocking was great and their good serving sets up their blocking opportunities. Nobody sees the size Stanford has very often.”
Sierra Nobley, the Mountain West player of the year, paced the Broncos with 12 kills and 12 digs. Nobley, who surpassed her single-season kills mark of 513, drew praise from Stanford coach John Dunning.
“She really has a good feel for the game,” Dunning said. “She is hard to play against.”
Dunning also praised Broncos setter Jayme-Lee Bulda, who had 27 assists and four digs.
“I really like their setter,” Dunning said. “She gives a lot of great sets to their hitters.”
The Broncos trailed 13-4 in Game 2, but slowly crept back. Bulda set O’Donnell, who drilled a kill, and the Broncos were down 16-7. Nobley had a kill before Bulda delivered a back set to southpaw Janell Walley, who slammed one down for one of her seven kills. Nobley’s kill got the Broncos within 18-12 as Dunning called his first timeout of the match.
Walley served an ace out of the timeout, then Kaitlyn Oliver had one of her five kills. A kill by Sabryn Roberts cut Stanford’s lead to 20-15.
Boise State started rolling, thanks to tough serving by Emily Sullivan (Bishop Kelly High). A kill by Nobley and it was a 22-19 lead as Stanford called its last timeout of the set. Nobley’s booming kill got the Broncos to within 24-22, but freshman Audriana Fitzmorris put one away for the Cardinal to end the set.
“It was 10 or 12 points into the second set we got a little bit of rhythm going,” Garus said. “We got some good serving and got them out of system and the match was on.”
An ace by O’Donnell found the Broncos up 5-3 in Game 3, but Stanford ran of the next eight points to take control. Stanford (23-7) advanced to the Madison Regional with the win.
Said O’Donnell: “We were so excited to come here. It’s what we’ve all dreamed about since we were little girls. We took in every moment. It didn’t matter if we were down. We stayed on the court and battled.”
The Broncos made their NCAA debut Friday night by sweeping Western Kentucky.
“I’m proud of everyone,” Nobley said. “We came together as a team. We had a balanced group of girls. It was a fun season and also a successful one.”
In a second match involving a Mountain West team, UNLV lost to BYU 3-0 on Saturday. The conference went 2-3 in the NCAA Tournament, with Colorado State falling to Kentucky 3-1 on Friday night.