On Saturday night, Stanford (5-2, 2-2 MPSF) will take on conference rival No. 10 UC-Santa Barbara (3-3, 1-2) at Maples Pavilion.
Stanford is looking to capitalize off its recent success against No. 4 UCLA on Tuesday night, helping to push its rocky road trip last weekend against Pepperdine and USC into the past.
The Cardinal hopes to maintain its momentum after its four-set victory over fellow No. 4 UCLA as well as its undefeated record at home. While Stanford is coming off an impressive win, UCSB is reeling from two-straight losses.
After two consecutive losses on the road last weekend, Steven Irvin stepped up with his season-best performance against UCLA, providing the young Cardinal team with the confidence needed going into its match against UCSB.
James Shaw, freshman setter from Woodside, Calif., has also been performing impressively and seems to be improving with each passing game. If Shaw can continue or even improve on his 36 assists and five kills game against UCLA, then UCSB will have a tough time hanging with Stanford.
One of Stanford’s biggest faults in its two losses to Southern California schools was the high number of errors, specifically service errors, that the team committed. Stanford needs to capitalize off UCSB’s errors (seven against UCLA) while minimizing its own. The Gaucho will play on Friday against No. 15 Pacific, while Stanford will come off a much-needed three-day rest.
Stanford must also continue the convincing defensive performance it showed against UCLA; the Bruins were held to a .228 hitting average and their top four hitters were held below their season average. Stanford’s strong blocking performance has been led by junior Eric Mochalski, who leads the Cardinal with 1.5 blocks per set. Leading hitter Brian Cook (averaging 4.21 kills per set) hopes to pave the way by taking advantage of UCSB’s recent struggles with passing.
While both teams will be coming in with much to prove, Stanford perhaps has more to lose with a loss than UCSB. The young Cardinal team is still finding its rhythm, and a loss could disrupt its recent confidence-building wins. Stanford could possibly lose its top-five ranking, tarnish its undefeated home record and leave Maples with a losing record within the very inconsistent MPSF conference.
But Stanford should feel confident going into Saturday night. The Cardinal is building off strong individual performances, a great team dynamic and a show of resilience. The Cardinal will be tested once again, but this time in the comfort of Maples and with a team that is very much improving.
Stanford and UCSB square off at Maples Pavilion on Saturday, with the match slated to begin at 7 p.m.