Stanford men’s volleyball pulled out two dramatic five-set victories against No. 5 Pepperdine and No. 13 USC this weekend to avenge early season losses and establish itself as one of the toughest teams in the MPSF.
On March 2, No. 4 Stanford (12-6, 9-6 MPSF) took on Pepperdine (9-6, 9-6) in a rematch of their early-season matchup, which the Waves won 3-1 in Malibu.
Junior outside hitter Steven Irvin started the match with a kill and Stanford did not relinquish that lead, taking the first set 25-17.
Stanford continued its strong play going into the second. With the Cardinal up 8-5, however, the Waves came back strong, uncorking a 7-2 run. Despite a small rally from the Cardinal, Pepperdine won the set 25-20.
In the third set, it was Stanford that stormed back after falling behind. A block from freshman setter James Shaw and junior middle blocker Denny Falls would give Stanford its first lead of the set at 23-22 before Irvin put the Waves away with back-to-back kills.
The fourth set was again extremely tight. Up 22-19, Pepperdine seemed to be in control before Stanford opposite hitter Brian Cook took over. The junior unleashed three powerful kills, tying the match back up at 22. The Waves countered, though, to pull out the 25-23 victory.
Stanford held a slight lead for the entirety of the final set on Saturday. With the Card holding a 14-11 lead, Pepperdine countered with two straight points, but Stanford secured the match after a Pepperdine service error.
Cook had another tremendous game, with 24 kills on .476 hitting. Both junior middle blockers had strong games, as Eric Mochalski chipped in five blocks and nine kills and hit .667 while Denny Falls had eight kills and four blocks.
The Stanford defense, anchored by junior libero Grant Delgado, held the Waves to just .277 hitting. Delgado led the match with 12 digs, the majority of which were extraordinary saves. The Cardinal was also strong at the net, tallying 21 blocks.
Delgado credited a newfound mindset for the team’s ability to pull out the victory.
“We focused on small goals rather than big picture,” Delgado said. “As a result, we found out what we have to work on and learned how to focus the energy and fire within ourselves.”
On March 3, the Cardinal faced USC (4-9, 4-9) in what would turn out to be a dogfight on and off the court. Stanford ultimately beat the Trojans for the first time in six meetings between the teams.
“It’s always a battle,” Stanford head coach John Kosty said. “It really started six or seven years ago and it hasn’t subsided.”
The Trojans started quickly, cruising to an early 10-4 lead. The Cardinal then slowly chipped away at the Trojan lead to tie the game at 18. Both teams went back-and-forth, with Stanford saving three straight USC set points before finally falling 28-26.
The second set was relatively even until Stanford pulled away with a dominant 8-1 run, during which the Trojans noticeably expressed frustration to the referees.
With Stanford up 21-16, Delgado made one of the most impressive plays of his career, diving to save a ball and watching it drift over the net for the kill. The Cardinal was also helped by USC’s temper, as Stanford received a point when the Trojan libero earned a yellow card.
After Stanford took the second set 25-17, USC responded with a dominant third set. The Trojans led from the start and won 25-18.
The fourth seemed to be more of the same, as USC edged in front 14-10. However, the Cardinal roared back with a 10-1 run that shifted momentum. Stanford won the set 25-21 to enter a fifth set once again.
The Cardinal began the decisive fifth set with an 8-2 run, putting the match all but out of reach for the Trojans. Stanford would ultimately take the set 15-10 to win the match.
Throughout the set, Trojans players repeatedly shouted at fans and yelled during Stanford serves.
Cook had another strong game for the Cardinal, with 20 kills on .326 hitting, nine digs, four aces and six blocks, while Irvin pitched in 12 kills. The middle blocker tandem was again dominant, with Mochalski displaying his athleticism on a number of powerful kills and blocks. He would finish with eight kills on .333 hitting, two aces and six blocks, while Falls added seven kills and five blocks.
Shaw put up an impressive double-double, with 48 assists and 10 digs, while Delgado chipped in eight assists and one incredible kill to anchor the defense.
“They were two very important wins, and while they weren’t pretty, hopefully they can spark some momentum going into the second half of the season,” Cook said.
Next week, Stanford is back on the road against UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. The Cardinal beat both teams at Maples earlier this season.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at amikk ‘at’ stanford.edu.