Two-time NCAA-champion Stanford cancels first two Pac-12 volleyball weekends

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Meghan McClure hugs former teammate Audriana Fitzmorris after Stanford won the 2019 NCAA title/Michael Gomez photography

Stanford coach Kevin Hambly, whose team has practiced together this month only on grass — yes, grass — just wants to get in 10 matches this spring season to be eligible for the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament.

The chances for that happening took a big hit Tuesday.

The Cardinal, the two-time defending national champion and winner of three of the last four, canceled this weekend’s Pac-12 matches at USC, the next weekend’s that were scheduled against Colorado at Stanford, and the weekend after that at Arizona is in serious jeopardy.

For that matter, Stanford, which has yet to practice indoors, may not play until late next month, Hambly said. 

“I think we’re five weeks away, probably, from being able to play,” Hambly said Tuesday from Palo Alto, which is located in Santa Clara Country. 

And therein lies the rub, because Santa Clara County has basically shut things down because of COVID-19.

“It’s all because of the restrictions in Santa Clara County. That’s the only reason,” said Hambly, starting his fifth season on The Farm.

Stanford included this in its news announcement Tuesday:

“In accordance with Santa Clara County’s restrictions for collegiate sports, athletics activities that involve contact, that do not allow for social distancing, or that take place indoors, remain prohibited. Additionally, individuals are required to quarantine for 10 days upon entering or returning from travel of over 150 miles from Santa Clara County’s borders. As a result, the women’s volleyball program initially plans to conduct modified outdoor training activities that comply with the current restrictions.

“While Stanford Athletics will continue striving to create an opportunity for student-athletes to compete in their upcoming season, all decisions regarding training and competition will be based on the conditions and the guidance provided to us by public health officials and our university administration. Accordingly, all competition dates are subject to change.”

Hambly knows his team is not ready to play and since traveling is not practical, canceling was the only real option. The matches were not postponed and won’t be made up.

“So like if we go play (Cal) at Berkeley, we have to quarantine for 10 days,” Hambly noted. “We can’t go outside of the county unless we’re going to stay out, which is what our basketball teams are doing. And the only reason they’re doing it is because they started that way and don’t want to break up their seasons.”

The Stanford women’s basketball team that was No. 1 is currently ranked No. 5. The women’s volleyball team, despite losing four great seniors, is No. 3 in the AVCA national preseason poll. 

Stanford has just one senior, Meghan McClure, who is not going to return after this spring. 

“It’s hard on all of us, but it’s really hard on the athletes,” Hambly said. “Meghan McClure, it’s her last year. The kid’s a warrior and she may not have a season that’s anything like normal.”

McClure, a do-it-all key cog for the Cardinal the past three years, is planning on joining Teach for America, Hambly said.

“I’ll tell you that my kids are ballin.’ They’re working their butts off. I mean, for being on grass, and being outside and all the crap we’ve been through, I’m kind of impressed with them with what they look like,” Hambly said. “I’m shocked. They’re trying to forge ahead. It’s been really, really cool.”

McClure would be one of Stanford’s outside hitters and redshirt-freshman Caitie Baird the other. The middles will be freshman Annabelle Smith and redshirt-freshman McKenna Vicini, the setter sophomore Selina Xu, sophomore Kendall Kipp — “she’s a rock star right now,” Hambly said — is on the right side, and the libero is freshman Elena Oglivie.

“Pretty tough to train without a carrot. So it’s pretty impressive,” Hambly said. “The kids have handled this amazingly.”

For that matter, his players have taken the situation head on. Since they were unable to practice and were going to class remotely, the players banded together last fall to get a place and move to San Diego, where they stayed for more than two months.

“It was a good deal. They got a house together. They were sleeping on top of each other. My team had a 3.85 GPA as a group. They freakin’ killed it,” Hambly said.

“It was a culture of go work in the gym, go to the beach and study, sit around the kitchen table and grind out work. It was pretty cool. They had a good time. They thrived.”

All the while Hambly and his staff were home.

“They said they really missed the coaching and the structure and all that,” Hambly said. “And I think they did. When they came back they were sloppy but at least they were in shape.”

They hope, of course, it’s not all for naught.

“I just hope we can play and get some matches under our belt. I think we can play with anybody. I really believe that,” Hambly said. “We just have to get there. The physicality and the talent, it’s all there.”

In the meantime Stanford can only hurry up and wait and, eventually, perhaps, leave Santa Clara County and stay away until the season is over.

Not to be forgotten in all this is that the Stanford men are preparing for the last year of the school’s storied program. 

“It’s their last year and trying to pull this off,” Hambly said. “We’re looking at putting four Sport Courts side by side on the field-hockey field in order to practice, both of us. We’re going to practice at the same time.”

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