What a difference 24 hours make.
Just a night after one of the team’s worst offensive outputs in some time, the Stanford men’s volleyball team put on a clinic and rebounded from a tough loss to UCLA with a road win over UC-Santa Barbara in four sets on Saturday, an important early season split in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
Sophomore outside hitter Brian Cook deserved much of the credit for the quick turnaround on offense, notching a career-high 17 kills against the No. 14 Gauchos (2-4, 0-2 MPSF) with an otherworldly .682 hitting percentage on the night.
Against No. 3 UCLA (7-1, 2-0 MPSF), Cook was one of many Cardinal players to struggle on the attack—his -.167 hitting percentage was not too far behind the team’s anemic .179 overall percentage in a 3-0 sweep.
“Brian did a great job of refocusing himself,” said head coach John Kosty after the UC-Santa Barbara victory. “He saw the block and the court very well and took some really smart swings.”
But most of the Cardinal attack was on the same page on Saturday. Sophomore Steven Irvin and senior Brad Lawson joined Cook with double-digit kills, and Stanford hit .421 as a team.
It wasn’t all that easy to slow Santa Barbara, however.
As Stanford racked up the kills, the Gaucho duo of Evan Licht and Miles Evans had its way with the Cardinal defense. Although Santa Barbara hit just .161 in the first set, the Cardinal could not pull away. A late kill by Licht tied the score at 21, and three errors from the Gauchos allowed Stanford to take the first set 25-22.
The second game followed a similar tack, as neither team really distanced itself from the other even as Stanford hit .419 and Santa Barbara only .258. Five late kills from the Cardinal put the game out of reach, however, tilting the match in Stanford’s favor with a 25-21 set win.
The Gauchos finally put things together in the third set, hitting .484 with just three attack errors to slip past Stanford and cut the deficit to 2-1, but the Cardinal nearly matched that effort with a .455 fourth set to finish Santa Barbara off with a 25-18 victory.
With much of the attention deservedly going to the offense, it would be easy to overlook one of Stanford’s best defensive efforts of the young season. Although Gauchos Licht and Evans had impressive games, the Cardinal had 11.5 total team blocks and limited several of Santa Barbara’s best attackers to negative offensive outputs.
That was in stark contrast to Friday’s match against the Bruins, when Stanford managed just two team blocks and could not stop UCLA’s offense from hitting .376 over the three sets.
The two-time All-American Lawson had 13 kills and a .333 hitting percentage, but UCLA proved why it is one of four undefeated teams in MPSF play and the No. 3 team in the country behind No. 1 BYU and No. 2 UC-Irvine.
Stanford continues a 10-match road swing—which will span 40 days when all is said and done—with a trip to Columbus, Ohio, for the Ken & Dave Dunlap Invitational. The Cardinal will take on No. 6 Penn State in a rematch of the 2010 NCAA final on Friday’s first day of the tournament, then follow that up with a match against No. 10 Ohio State, the defending national champion, on Saturday.
Then it’s back to MPSF play on the road for Stanford, with a looming double against BYU on the first weekend of February and two more weekends of conference matches before the Cardinal returns home to play Pepperdine on Feb. 24.