It had been three months and a total of 100 days since the University of San Diego’s volleyball team dropped a match. And despite trailing two sets to one against Stanford, on the Cardinal’s home floor, against the team that has won more NCAA titles than any other school, the Toreros decided Saturday night it was not time to taste defeat again.
Instead, the underdog Toreros rallied to stun Stanford 3-2. The set scores were 19-25, 25-22, 19-25, 25-23, 15-9.
Next stop: The Final Four on Thursday.
When Leyla Blackwell’s final kill hit the Stanford side of the court, USD’s bench sprinted onto the floor and dogpiled their teammates. When the scrum unfolded, there at the bottom, in tears, was fifth-year senior Katie Lukes.
It was fitting. Lukes led the way with 20 kills.
The Toreros, who before this year’s run had never advanced past the Sweet 16, are now on their way to the Final Four in Omaha, where they’ll take on No. 1-ranked Texas. ACC rivals Pitt and Louisville make up the other half of the Final Four.
USD improved to 31-1. The win was the Toreros’ 28th straight, the longest current streak in the nation. Stanford fell to 27-5 and had won 21 straight.
NCAA Volleyball Semifinals
Toreros vs. Texas
Thursday: Time TBA, CHI Health Center, Omaha
On the air: ESPN
Despite playing on its home floor in front of a partisan crowd, the Cardinal simply could not put USD away.
Stanford easily won the first set 25-19 only for USD to rally in the second set. The Cardinal led the set 14-13, but the Toreros went on a 7-3 run to take control, then closed it on a Blackwell kill.
The Cardinal controlled the third set, winning 25-19. But the Toreros were stubborn in the fourth set. Down 22-20, USD won five of the last six points to force a deciding fifth set.
In the fifth, the match was all tied at nine. The Toreros sent the partisan fans home unhappy, winning the final six points.
As they have been all season, the Toreros were balanced. Grace Frohling and Edwards added 18 kills and Blackwell 14 to Luke’s 20. Setter Gabby Blossom had 64 assists.
It was only USD’s fifth five-set match — the Toreros are now 5-0. USD’s only loss, 3-1 at Louisville, came on Sept. 2, 100 days ago.
Regardless of what happens at the Final Four, the 2022 season will go down as by far the most successful in the program’s 48 years.
The Toreros matched their all-time highest ranking, reaching No. 2 in the nation. In 2013 they climbed to No. 2 for one week. This year they held the ranking for four weeks before slipping to No. 3 after the final week of the regular season.
“This season has been really very magical for us,” said head coach Jennifer Petrie. “It’s not like we’re counting wins. We are in the moment.”
“As a San Diego native,” said La Jolla High product Blackwell, “I can’t put into words how much pride we take in this, to represent not only our school but also the city and the volleyball community. It means a lot for us to have created this legacy that Jen has worked on for 24 years now.”
Norcross is a freelance writer.