This weekend, the Stanford men’s volleyball team was back on the road again, taking on BYU and Cal Baptist. Despite two very strong performances, it split the matches, losing to BYU in five before defeating Cal Baptist 3-1.
On Saturday night, No. 5 Stanford (10-6, 7-6 MPSF) took on No. 2 BYU (11-3, 10-2 MPSF). While the Cougars were certainly favored, Stanford had won six straight over BYU, despite being underdogs in four of those contests.
The Cardinal came out hot, starting the first set with a 7-4 run, but the Cougars immediately countered, eventually evening the score at 10 apiece. Both sides traded points, unable to gain an advantage over the other. With the score even at 23, Stanford caught a break when BYU star junior outside hitter Taylor Sander committed an error. The Cardinal immediately seized the opportunity to win the set, as sophomore middle blocker Spencer Haly aced the Cougars.
The second set was again tight, with Stanford slightly edging BYU early. Up 23-20, the Cardinal seemed to be firmly in control, but BYU demonstrated why it is the second-ranked team in the nation. A Sander kill and Stanford error brought the Cougars within one before three straight BYU blocks gave the Cougars the 25-23 set victory and evened the match at one apiece.
Despite the poor end to the second set, Stanford was certain it could stick with the Cougars and again held a close lead throughout the third. Up just 22-21, Stanford junior outsider hitter Steven Irvin fired his seventh third-set kill through the Cougar defense. Stanford closed the third like the first, as a Sander error paved the way for an ace from freshman setter James Shaw, giving Stanford the 2-1 advantage.
Stanford’s second-set collapse ensured it now still had more volleyball to play, as the match headed to four. Both teams were again deadlocked early, but BYU began to pull away. The Cardinal rallied to within one, with BYU up just 21-20, before Sander and freshman teammate opposite hitter Ben Patch took over, combining for three kills in the next five points as BYU won 25-22.
The match was therefore headed into a fifth set, which, in keeping with the entirety of the match thus far, was close throughout. Stanford was ahead 10-9 before BYU seized control with three straight points and put the game out of reach. The Cougars held off Stanford to capture the set 15-13 and pull out an improbable match victory.
It was certainly a match of what-ifs, as Stanford certainly could have secured the victory with a stronger closing performance in the second set.
“I thought we played a good match. Some of the best volleyball we’ve played so far,” head coach John Kosty told GoStanford.com.
The Cardinal hit .354 as a team, one of their strongest performances of the season. Irvin had 23 kills, hitting an incredible .486, as well as seven digs. Junior opposite hitter Brian Cook also added 23 kills and seven digs, while junior middle blocker Eric Mochalski continued his strong play since returning to the starting lineup with eight kills on .462 hitting, as well as five digs and two blocks. Shaw also had another great performance, putting up a career-high 60 assists, while chipping in three kills and eight digs.
Stanford was severely outperformed at the net, as it had just nine blocks compared to BYU’s 24. The Cardinal defense was strong otherwise, however, with 45 digs.
After the disappointing loss, Stanford traveled from snowy Utah to sunny California to take on No. 13 Cal Baptist (6-8, 3-6 MPSF). The powerful offense demonstrated against the Cougars was certainly not on display in the first set on Monday night, as Stanford hit just .036. Despite this, the Cardinal hung tight with the Lancers, losing 25-21.
The second set was close until Irvin put on a dominant show. With Cal Baptist up 9-8, Irvin unleashed a powerful kill before stepping back to serve. At the service line, he had three aces in four attempts, giving Stanford a lead it would not relinquish. The Cardinal would ultimately take the set 25-18.
The third set was closer, with Stanford holding a slight lead throughout. Cal Baptist tied the match up at 21 apiece, but a Lancers service error would give the Cardinal the lead again. Kills from Irvin and Cook would put Stanford on the verge of a set victory, before another Irvin ace put Stanford up 2-1.
Stanford needed just a fourth set victory to end its two-game losing streak. The Cardinal offense completely broke out, as Stanford hit .565, cruising to a 25-21 set victory.
Cook led the way with 13 kills, while Irvin chipped in eight kills and six service aces, one shy of the Stanford all-time record. The middle hitter tandem of Mochalski and fellow junior Denny Falls both had great games, as Mochalski had nine kills on .600 hitting, while Falls had eight kills, hitting .800.
Stanford returns home next week, with rematches against No. 4 Pepperdine (8-5, 8-5 MPSF) and No. 9 USC (3-8, 3-8 MPSF). Both teams defeated the Cardinal in their last meetings, so Stanford will be looking for revenge. The matches will take place at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion, with Stanford facing Pepperdine on Saturday and USC on Sunday.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at amikk ‘at’ stanford.edu.