After back-to-back matches in Hawaii, the Stanford men’s volleyball team will return to the Farm—where it hasn’t lost this season—for two weekend home matches. The No. 3 Cardinal (7-3, 4-3 Pac-12) will face No. 1 UC-Irvine (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) tonight, and newly unranked UC-San Diego (4-8, 2-6 Pac-12) on Saturday. The Cardinal is coming off two hard-fought, physically and mentally exhausting matches against No. 13 Hawaii in which Stanford won the first and lost the second.
While the past weekend demonstrated that Stanford has yet to find a solution for its struggles on the road, the team seems to be comfortable at home. But despite the home advantage based on the great atmosphere and fan base at Maples, it will need to be performing at its best against the formidable Anteaters.
UC-Irvine currently has a four-game win streak after beating both UCLA and UC-Santa Barbara on the road last week. Senior All-American outside hitter Kevin Tillie has been performing at his pinnacle, hitting a .485 last game with 18 kills, and is showing no signs of stopping.
The consistently improving Stanford’s defense will need to find a way to keep Tillie from heating up. Cardinal sophomore libero Grant Delgado had a successful weekend against Hawaii with a career-high 15 digs. Stanford dominated Hawaii defensively, holding them to a .187 hitting percentage. While the Anteaters are a stronger hitter team than Hawaii, if Stanford can continue its strong defensive performance, then UC-Irvine will struggle to execute at their usual level.
Not only will Stanford’s defense have to be at its best, but the offense must find a way to overcome the troubles it faced during the second match against Hawaii, where hitting was a weakness.
Junior Steven Irvin will be crucial in leading the Cardinal offense. Irvin had a career-high 27 kills in the first match against Hawaii, hitting a .548 with three aces and eight digs. Accompanying Irvin’s tremendous performance was junior Brian Cook, who had 20 kills and eight assists against Hawaii.
If Stanford’s offense can perform as they did in their first match against Hawaii and setter James Shaw can build off his latest 47 assists and 12 digs, then UC-Irvine’s defense will have their hands full.
Still, UC-Irvine’s libero Michael Brinkley, who had a career-high 20 digs over UCLA, will be tough to beat. Stanford cannot let UC-Irvine pull ahead early because the Anteaters rarely give up a lead.
Stanford will face an easier challenge on Saturday against UCSD. While the Tritons were ranked No. 13 until last week, their loss to No. 7 Long Beach State lost them a place in the current rankings. UCSD has not won an away game this year (0-3), is coming off two losses in a row to UCSB and UCLA and will play Friday night against Pacific. However, UCSD was one of the few teams to beat Stanford at home last year
The two largest threats on UCSD will be outside hitter Nick Iorfino and freshman Cory Swartzbaugh.
Stanford faces a tough and defining weekend ahead. The Cardinal is still trying to find itself as a young team and one that has been inconsistent on the road. This weekend, Stanford faces an opportunity to beat the No. 1 team, recover from a hard loss and define its team identity.
Stanford’s game against UC-Irvine will be at Burnham Pavilion tonight at 6:30 p.m. The Cardinal meets the Tritons on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.
Contact Eliza Thompson at email@example.com.