After a series split at No. 11 Hawaii last weekend, the men’s volleyball team is back on the road to continue Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play against No. 13 Cal State Northridge (2-5, 1-3 MPSF) tonight. The No. 2 Cardinal (5-1, 4-1) will go on to face No. 5 Long Beach State (4-3, 3-1) tomorrow.
“Both teams are ranked in the top 15, so it won’t be easy,” said Stanford head coach John Kosty. “Long Beach has a very experienced setter that runs a balanced and fast offense, and although CSUN lost a lot of players to graduation, they still have a strong attack on the outside and good size in the middle.”
The Matadors are coming off a loss in their home opener to UC-Santa Barbara, but they have already faced five teams ranked in the national top five, including a win on the road against then-No. 3 Pepperdine.
Northridge junior setter Matt Stork passed the 3,400-assist mark in his last match against UCLA, but he had his consecutive start streak end at 70 matches after suffering an injury against the Bruins. Stork is questionable for the match tonight, meaning backup setter Jeff Baxter would run the offense against the Cardinal.
However, the match likely rests on how well Stanford’s defense and blocking can handle Northridge’s young talent. Freshmen Greg Faulkner, Brandon Lebrock and Cory Wagner all feature heavily in the Matadors’ offense–Lebrock leads the team in kills and aces and is second in digs.
Stanford leads the all-time series 33-25, but has dropped seven of the last nine matches dating back to 2008. The Cardinal has not won in the Matadome since 2004.
Kosty is more concerned with how his team is doing now than with how it will match up against its opponents.
“We really need to focus every day on improving both individually and as a team,” he said. “This is a very long season and we are only four MPSF matches in.”
Freshman outside hitters Brian Cook and Eric Mochalski are third and fourth on the team in kills with 46 and 27, respectively. Mochalski is hitting .438 and had the match-winning kill against Hawaii last Sunday–Cook had his own match-winner earlier in the season against BYU.
“All seven of our freshmen have done an absolutely incredible job for us thus far,” Kosty said.
Junior outside hitter Brad Lawson leads the veterans with a team-high 81 kills, averaging 4.05 per set–good for fourth-highest in the MPSF. First-year setter Evan Barry is averaging over 10 assists per set, tied for second-best in the MPSF.
But it was Spencer McLachlin who carried the Cardinal in the second match against Hawaii. The senior outside hitter and Hawaii native had a career-high 29 kills in tight win against the Warriors.
This came after Stanford laid a collective egg in the first match against Hawaii, when the Cardinal was swept, 25-22, 25-21, 25-17, in Honolulu.
“Hawaii came out on that first night and dictated the action from the first serve,” Kosty said. “We did not do a good job countering their game plan.”
Stanford struggled to connect passes and hit a season-low .200 as a team. Defensively, the team couldn’t stop outside hitter Jonas Umlauft, who hit .500 and had 22 kills.
The Cardinal will face a similar challenge against Long Beach State’s Jim Baughman. The junior is averaging 3.96 kills per set for the 49ers, often thanks to senior Mike Klipsch’s setting. Klipsch is averaging 10.5 assists per match and had 46 assists with 10 digs in the team’s win against UCLA–as a freshman, Klipsch led the nation in assists per match with 13.8.
If the Cardinal is to maintain its No. 2 national ranking, it will need to continue its recent success against the 49ers. Stanford trails in the all-time series 40-25, but has won the past five meetings.
The match against Northridge is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight in Northridge, Calif., with the clash against Long Beach State scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.