It had been three months and 100 days since the University of San Diego volleyball team last lost a game. And despite trailing two sets to one against Stanford at Cardinal’s home against the team that has won more NCAA titles than any other school, the Toreros decided Saturday night that it wasn’t time to prove defeat again.
Instead, the underdog Toreros rallied to stun Stanford 3–2. The sets scores were 19-25, 25-22, 19-25, 25-23, 15-9.
When Leyla Blackwell’s final kill hit the Stanford side of the court, the USD bench ran to the Maples Pavilion floor and attacked her teammates. When the scrum unfolded, deep inside, in tears, was fifth-year senior Katie Lukes.
It was appropriate. Lukes led the way with 20 kills.
The Toreros, who before this year’s race had never made it past the Sweet 16, are on their way to the Final Four, where they will face No. 1 Texas next Thursday in Omaha, Neb.
“I have no words right now for the emotion that is pouring out of our team, our fans, our locker room, our administration,” said USD head coach Jennifer Petrie. “It was a team win.”
ACC rivals Pitt and Louisville make up the other half of the Final Four. The championship match will be played at 5pm on Saturday.
USD improved to 31-1. The win was the Toreros’ 28th straight , the current longest streak in the country. Stanford, which has won nine NCAA titles, fell to 27-5. The Cardinal had won 21 in a row.
“It was a battle,” said Petrie. “It was an absolute battle. They never, never gave up. It is a testament to their tenacity, resilience and bravery. I couldn’t be more proud to persevere and win that match.”
The emotion showed on the faces of the players minutes after the match. When setter Gabby Blossom walked into the postgame interview room, her first words were, “I can’t breathe.”
Despite playing at home and in front of a partisan crowd, Stanford just couldn’t save on dollars.
Stanford easily won the first set 25-19, only for USD to rise in the second set. The Cardinal led the set 14-13, but the Toreros made a 7-3 run to take control, then closed out the set with a Blackwell kill.
The cardinal controlled the third set, winning by 25 to 19. But the Toreros were stubborn in the fourth set. Trailing 22-20, USD won five of the last six points to force a decisive fifth set.
On the return, Petrie said: “We work a lot on it in practice, often putting them down a lot, putting them in situations where they will have to rise to the occasion. Mentally, we want to stay in the moment. It’s not about the past. It’s not about the future. The next point is the only thing that matters.”
On Thursday, the match was all tied at nine. The Toreros sent the partisan fans home unhappy, taking the final six points. Setter Alex Hoglund served the final five points.
“Alex came back there with ice in his veins and hit the serves,” said Petrie.
As they have been doing all season, the Toreros were evenly matched. While Lukes had 20 kills, Grace Frohling and Breana Edwards each had 18 and Blackwell 14. Blossom had 64 assists.
It was only USD’s fifth five-set match. The Toreros are now 5-0 in five setters.
“The fifth set is what you live for,” said Blossom. “I’m still trying to come down from above, still trying to find the words.”
Said Frohling: “I think the whole time we had this look in our eyes. We love five sets, we love pushing people.