Bright and early Thursday morning, the No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball team got on a plane and headed for the island paradise of Hawaii to play back-to-back matches with the Hawaii Warriors.
The Cardinal (6-2, 3-2) is fresh off two impressive home victories over No. 5 UCLA and No. 12 UCSB, but has yet to prove that it can win on the road. Both of its losses so far this season have come away from Maples Pavilion. It will hope to buck that trend soon, as four of its next six games are on the road. The unranked Warriors (3-6, 2-4) are second-to-last in the MPSF, but they have proved formidable at home, beating No. 4 Pepperdine twice last weekend.
Stanford is definitely in good position to bring home some victories this weekend, as much of the team is playing its best volleyball of the season. Junior outside hitter Brian Cook has been consistently dominant for weeks, while fellow outside hitter Steven Irvin is coming off back-to-back strong efforts.
After an awful match in which it committed 25 service errors, the Cardinal has turned its service game around, committing just 19 service errors in its last two games combined.
The Cardinal defense has been absolutely ferocious as of late, as the new two-libero system put in place by Coach John Kosty has proved immensely effective. Since the second set against UCLA, Stanford has outscored opponents by an average of 25-17 a set, a dominant figure.
For Stanford to beat the Warriors, they will have to limit the outside hitting tandem of freshman Sinisa Zarkovic and sophomore Brook Sedore. They have combined for 66 kills on .400 hitting over their last two games, and will certainly be tough for the Stanford defense to contain.
The Hawaii offense is controlled by setter Joby Ramos. While he is not much of a threat to get a kill, the junior put up 90 assists in the past weekend, while leading his team to a .350 hitting percentage.
However, besides Zarkovic, Sedore and sophomore opposite JP Marks, the Warriors do not boast many talented offensive players. The threesome accounted for 83 percent of the team’s kills against Pepperdine. Therefore, shutting just one of them down will have huge ramifications on the rest of the team.
Ultimately, these two matches could prove to be a pivotal point in the Stanford season. Many figured that the Cardinal would take a step back after losing four starters and three All-Americans to graduation, but Stanford’s performance this past week has proved that it can hang with the best of the MPSF.
If the Cardinal can prove that it can take down a quality team on the road, all other MSPF opponents are sure to be nervous, especially considering Stanford owns one of the largest home-court advantages in college volleyball. Stanford has not dropped a game on its home court since last March, coincidentally to Hawaii.
Stanford will play at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday night.