No. 8 Stanford men’s volleyball wrapped up its home slate for the season, concluding the regular season with a weekend split in a victory over No. 5 Cal Baptist on Friday night and a loss to top-ranked BYU on Saturday night. Despite the defeat to the No. 1 team in the nation, Stanford (15-12, 12-12 MPSF) should enter the upcoming conference tournament with confidence following its performance over the weekend.
While Saturday’s Senior Night did not conclude as planned for the Cardinal and lone senior Jake Kneller, Stanford showed fight against top-ranked BYU (22-4, 21-3) in three tough sets, falling 30-28, 25-18, 25-21.
Stanford knew it would need a strong team performance if it wanted to have a chance.
“They’re the best team in the country,” said freshman setter James Shaw before the match. “It’s going to take all of us playing at 100 percent.”
The Cardinal responded by pushing the Cougars to the brink twice in the first set, as Stanford gained set points at 25-24 and 27-26 behind the particularly strong play of Shaw, who tallied 13 assists in the frame, and junior outside hitter Steven Irvin, who registered six kills.
Poor serving was a theme of the weekend for the Cardinal, and it would be the team’s undoing in the first set. Stanford saw its strong play on both sides of the ball squandered with two service errors on each set point it had. Despite recording 17 kills and four blocks as a team in the set, the Cardinal would come up empty when redshirt sophomore outside hitter Daniel Tublin’s attack at 28-29 sailed wide left to end the set.
Set two swung wildly in BYU’s favor after Tublin’s service error at 12-12 started a 13-6 BYU run to close it out. Behind an efficient attack that saw the team hit .400 for the frame–highlighted by junior middle blocker Devin Young’s five kills for the set–the Cougars took control and didn’t look back. With Stanford’s defense focused on holding BYU’s dynamic duo of freshman phenoms Ben Patch and junior All-American Taylor Sander at bay, Young put on a show, converting 12 of his 17 chances into kills for the evening.
The third set saw the Cardinal off to a poor start once again, falling behind 14-8 after an error by junior outside hitter Brian Cook. The team showed its mettle by responding with six straight points to even the set, and it even held the lead at 18-17 following some terrific team play that saw contributions from everyone on the court. In the end, however, Stanford couldn’t answer BYU’s arsenal of weapons, falling 25-21 after Sander’s serve glanced off the back line to seal the victory for the Cougars.
Irvin finished with 15 kills and seven digs, and Shaw had 33 assists for the Cardinal, but the team was held to just a .196 hitting percentage in the defeat.
Friday night’s match had resulted in a happier conclusion for Stanford, which outlasted MPSF newcomer Cal Baptist (16-14, 12-12 MPSF) in five sets, 25-23, 20-25, 25-16, 23-25, 15-10. Despite the relative unfamiliarity between the two teams, the match was a chippy one, with emotions running so high between the newcomers and the four-time conference champions that the Cal Baptist bench was even assessed a yellow card.
Particularly key for the Cardinal in the match was the rhythm Shaw developed with his middle blockers, juniors Denny Falls and Eric Mochalski. The two combined for 22 kills on 38 attempts with just two errors. Mochalski fittingly ended the match on a set over the middle from Shaw, which punctuated Stanford’s 7-2 run to close the final set.
“We’ve been connecting really well recently,” Mochalski said. “He found me all night, and he just put up a ball I could put away. I was fortunate enough that it went down.”
Stanford hit .303 as a team for the match, highlighted by Shaw’s 49 assists. Four Stanford starters reached double figures in kills: Irvin with 14, Cook with 13, Mochalski with 12 and Falls with 10. The Brazilian duo of Guilherme Koepp and Levi Cabral finished with a combined 32 kills for Cal Baptist but were forced to take 88 swings to do so.
For the Cardinal, the win sealed the No. 6 seed and a date with third-seeded Long Beach State Saturday in Long Beach, Calif., in the first round of the MPSF Tournament
Contact Daniel Lupin at delupin “at” stanford.edu.