After clinching the No. 3 seed in the upcoming MPSF tournament last weekend against UCLA, the men’s volleyball team wraps up the regular season with a match at rival No. 14 Pacific Saturday night in Stockton.
No. 4 Stanford (18-8, 14-7 MPSF) will no doubt be trying to stay healthy while still maintaining the momentum gained from its sweep of UCLA. Pacific (11-18, 5-16) has struggled all season long, but is gradually improving and hopes to score the upset and stay out of the MPSF cellar, a position it’s held since 2007.
The Tigers are coming off a nice upset win over the same UC-Santa Barbara team that knocked off Stanford last weekend. They’ve also secured upsets over CS Northridge twice, and a road sweep of UC-San Diego—in all, Pacific has won five of their last nine matches.
The Cardinal, on the other hand, has been treading water. After a five-game win streak before Spring Break, Stanford is just 4-4. That includes three weekend splits in MPSF play, even though six of the eight games were played on Stanford’s home court.
But Stanford hasn’t lost to Pacific in the past six matches, regardless of where the match was played. In the first meeting this year, on Feb. 2, the Cardinal wore out the Tigers in four sets, led by junior outside hitter Brad Lawson’s 23 kills and freshman outside hitter Brian Cook’s 11 kills and .474 hitting percentage.
Lawson also leads the Cardinal in overall kills, with 405 on the year, although of the players that have at least 50 attack attempts, freshman middle blocker Eric Mochalski is hitting a team-high .450.
Junior libero Erik Shoji is having another solid campaign with 255 digs after two AVCA All-American seasons in his first two years on the Farm, and junior setter Evan Barry has stepped into the big shoes of graduated senior and AVCA National Player of the Year Kawika Shoji<\p–<\p>Barry is third in MPSF play with 11.38 assists per game.
Tomorrow’s match holds no real implications for Stanford’s postseason aspirations, as the Cardinal cannot catch No. 2 BYU or No. 1 USC, and cannot fall below No. 4 UC-Irvine. Coach John Kosty plans to use most of his roster, a tactic he’s used previously in games against Division III opponents in order to keep the bench players sharp while resting the starters for the playoffs.
But Pacific’s attack, led by redshirt sophomore outside hitter Taylor Hughes and junior outside hitter Florian Gornik, should give Stanford a great opportunity to work on the active defense and accurate passing that the Cardinal will need to make a deep run in the MPSF tournament and then potentially in the NCAA Championships.
Hughes had 25 kills and hit .396 in UOP’s victory over Santa Barbara, while Gornik is second on the team with 291 kills on the season.
A win over the Tigers would also allow Stanford to match last year’s conference record at 15-7 and give the class of 2011 the most wins of any class in school history.
The Cardinal is still unsure of its first-round opponent in the MPSF tournament, which starts April 23, but it has secured home court for the opening match. If the season ended today, Stanford would square off against No. 6 Santa Barbara, but the Gauchos still have two games remaining against Pepperdine and USC, and are just a half-game ahead of Long Beach State for the sixth seed. It is also possible that Santa Barbara could win both remaining matches and leapfrog fifth-seeded Hawaii by virtue of a tiebreaker, meaning that the Cardinal would take on the Warriors for a semifinal berth.
Should Stanford advance to the semifinals, it would meet either second-seeded BYU, or the as-yet-unknown seventh-seeded team. The match against BYU would take place in Provo, Utah, but Stanford would host the No. 7 seed if it sprung the upset over the Cougars.
In any case, the MPSF semifinals are scheduled for April 28, with the MPSF Championship to be held at the higher-seeded team’s home on April 30.
The MPSF Tournament Champion receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Championships, to be held this year in State College, Penn. But there is one at-large berth, and the MPSF runner-up has historically been able to secure that spot based on the difficulty of the league.
First, though, Stanford will try and tune-up against Pacific, with the match scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Spanos Center in Stockton, Calif.