The Stanford men’s volleyball team has finally found the key to success—or so it seems after two critical and emotional wins at home this past weekend. The Cardinal beat No. 5 Pepperdine (9-6) and No. 13 USC (4-9), both important rivals to the program. The weekend’s success demonstrates that Stanford is a tough, maturing team and possibly a contender for the national championship.
More importantly, perhaps, the two wins provide the Cardinal with the poise and momentum it needs going into two away matches this weekend against top-15 opponents. Stanford will face No. 14 UCSB (7-12) this Friday and No. 6 UCLA (11-9) the very next day. Both opponents are coming fresh off losses and will be seeking the comfort of their respective home gyms to try and beat the Cardinal.
Stanford entered last weekend with fresh wounds from a very tough loss against BYU, and with ongoing struggles to find consistency at home and, more critically, on the road. The young team was in a constant state of in-between—improving in some matches, only to make similar mistakes another contest.
This past weekend, however, everything seemed to come together for the Cardinal as it avenged two early-season losses, and now Stanford must take these newfound answers on the road. Stanford beat No. 5 Pepperdine in five very close sets, winning the last set 15-13 and getting 24 kills from junior Brian Cook; his continued leadership will be critical against UCSB and UCLA. The win against USC came in part because of Stanford’s ability to take advantage of weaknesses in the Trojan defense.
Furthermore, libero Grant Delgado was able to flourish in his newly solo role as libero over the weekend, as he compiled 12 digs and made several crucial saves.
Strong defense was one of the greatest factors to the Cardinal’s success and one will need to be present again this weekend against two very strong offensive teams. Both the Gauchos and the Bruins have demonstrated in recent matches that their offense can be controlled and limited by strong defenses. UCSB lost to Long Beach State last week and was limited to .172 hitting. If Stanford can control the Gauchos’ offenses as Long Beach was able to, specifically focusing on powerful hitter Evan Licht, than the Cardinal should be able to beat UCSB.
UCLA, having lost to UCSB at home last week, is facing a critical point in its season, as the Bruins look to overcome their loss and not succumb to the mounting pressure. Stanford wants to come out aggressively and gain an early lead against the Bruins in order to ensure they don’t regain any confidence early on against the Cardinal.
Stanford should also focus on hitting around the strong blocking team of Clayton Paullin and Spencer Rowe, who have dominated the net in recent games. If the Cardinal can out-block and out-hit around the Bruins’ middles, than Stanford’s offense should see success.
Furthermore, two of the Bruin’s strongest hitters, Page and Quiroga, both hit under .200 last match and may be more vulnerable to the Cardinal’s defense, especially if the Cardinal does not let UCLA convert swings to kills early on. One major factor working against the Cardinal is that Stanford has not won at Pauley Pavilion since 2003.
The Cardinal this weekend must remind itself that it has proven, to both its opponents and itself, that with consistency, aggression and will, Stanford can compete with any team in the top 15. The key to success this weekend will be working as a team that truly believes its struggles are in the past.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat “at” stanford.edu.