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Men’s volleyball seeks momentum from road challenges

The No. 3 Cardinal men’s volleyball team will look to improve its 1-3 road record when it travels south this weekend to face No. 8 Cal State-Northridge (6-4, 4-4 MPSF) on Feb. 15 and then to No. 4 Long Beach State (9-4, 7-3 MPSF) for a match on Feb. 16. The Cardinal (8-4, 5-4 MPSF), hoping to build momentum going into the second half of the season, is just two weeks away from a meeting with No. 1 BYU.

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Joe Ctvrtlik (above) had 33 assists, eight digs, and three blocks in his first collegiate start in a 3-0 win over the University of San Diego last Sunday. (CITALLI SANDOVAL/The Stanford Daily)

The young and still improving Stanford team will face two tough and steady teams that are both pursuing three wins in a row. The Cardinal has played well at home but struggled on the road this season.

Stanford is coming off its first home loss of the season—on Feb. 8, the Cardinal fought hard but ultimately couldn’t prevent UC-Irvine, the former No. 1 team, from prevailing in four sets.

Stanford rallied back the next day, beating unranked UC-San Diego in three sets and sending a message that Stanford would not give up easily.

Junior hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin showed tremendous leadership and perservance in the Cardinal’s loss to the Anteaters. Irvin led the offense with 21 kills, and Cook hit a .421 with eight digs and 18 kills. They combined for 14 kills in one set, helping the Cardinal win that set. Stanford will be looking for yet another dominant performance out of these two players this weekend against the Matadors and 49ers, as the rest of the Cardinal’s young offense combined for a total of just seven kills against Irvine.

Stanford must also focus on ending games well. The Cardinal allowed UCSD to save two match points at the end of Sunday’s match, thus ending the final set 25-23 instead of 25-21. Stanford’s opponents this weekend will likely be even tougher to hold off than UCSD and will capitalize off any mistakes or openings the Cardinal provides.

Stanford changed setters over the weekend, with freshman setter Joe Ctvrtlik earning the starting spot during Saturday’s game against UCSD. Even as a freshman in his first collegiate start, Ctvrtlik helped to balance the struggling offense.

“Joe gave us a solid balanced offense, and I think he sets the quicks really well,” Stanford head coach John Kosty told GoStanford.com. “I felt we need to change things up a little bit [against UCSD], and I’m pleased with the performance that we got from Joe.”

Against UCSD, Kosty was happy with the improved performance of the offense—the middles hit a .389.

“Our passing needs to be more consistent,” Kosty said. “We need to take the opportunities when they’re given to us and not force it, and I think we did a good job of taking the opportunities and not trying to force balls in there.”

The Northridge Matadors are currently ranked at a season-high No. 8 nationally after two momentum-building wins against then-No. 8 USC and No. 5 Pepperdine. While the Cardinal have won the last five and six of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, the Matadors are at peak strength right now and will be difficult to defeat on the road. The Cardinal and Matadors both only have one home loss—to the same team, Irvine.

Long Beach State also only has one loss at home this season after losing to Pepperdine last weekend. They are coming off a weekend similar to Stanford. The 49ers lost their first home match of the weekend but pulled through in a win the next day against USC. The 49ers have had a very strong offense lately, so Stanford’s offense will need to prevent the 49ers from dominating at the net. Long Beach junior Taylor Crabb will be a force to watch out for after recording four blocks, six digs and 20 kills against USC.

The Cardinal face two strong opponents on the road, giving the inconsistent but talented team the opportunity to find the solution to its road dilemma and carry momentum into the second half of the season.

“In the MPSF, we’ve got to get our road wins,” Kosty said. “Long Beach is on a roll, and Northridge is tough. It’s a test.”

Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat@stanford.edu.