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Men’s volleyball defeats UC-Irvine in MPSF Tournament nailbiter

The No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball team defeated No. 6 UC-Irvine in a thrilling five-set match at Maples Pavilion, winning their first match of the MPSF Tournament (28-30, 25-22, 25-15, 17-25, 15-13). The Cardinal extended their winning streak to 12 straight matches and will travel to Utah this Thursday to face No. 2 seed Pepperdine in the semifinals.

(MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

Sophomore Conrad Kaminski (above) had three consecutive blocks and a kill in the third set to help key Stanford to a 2-1 set advantage and ultimately win the playoff match against UC-Irvine. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

Saturday’s match was high intensity from the beginning, with both teams clearly ready to battle to keep their MPSF Championship title hopes alive with a spot in the semifinals.  But while both the Anteaters and the Cardinal played impressively and demonstrated why they are top teams in the country, it was Stanford’s confident poise, home court advantage and ability to capitalize off UCI’s errors that ultimately won the match for them.

The Cardinal are currently one of the most dominant teams in the MPSF and lately have seemed truly invincible. When discussing the winning streak, head coach John Kosty said the team has “been doing it with patience and confidence.” The 12-match winning streak is the second-longest for the Cardinal in program history, with the longest being a 16-match streak during the 1996 season.

Stanford started the match strong with an ace from senior outside hitter Eric Mochalski, putting the Cardinal up 4-1 in the first set. But UCI made it clear early on that it would not be defeated easily. The first set was relatively even as it was at one point tied at nine and again at 11, with both teams hitting above.600 and serving exceptionally well.

UCI soon took the lead and was winning 21-18 before Stanford cut the lead to 23-22, forcing an Anteaters timeout. Stanford tied the match at 23-23 with a kill from senior Brian Cook and capitalized off of an attack error by the Anteaters to go up 25-24. The next few points were back and forth with neither team wanting to give up the first set. However, Stanford was the first to blink and UCI won the first set 30-28.

In the second set, Stanford once again was hitting .600 and took the lead early on. Stanford increased its energy, playing with intensity and aggressive offense that allowed them to maintain the lead throughout the second set. While UCI cut the lead to 19-18, Stanford won the set 25-22 and tied the match at one set apiece.

The third set was the most impressive for Stanford’s defense, with an especially impressive blocking performance. Sophomore Conrad Kaminski had three straight blocks to put the Cardinal up 15-6 and then followed the blocks with a kill to put the Cardinal up 19-8. Stanford dominated the third set while the Anteaters began to look a little overwhelmed.

UCI pulled it together in the fourth set to rally and tie the match at two sets each. While Stanford was able to get within five points during the fourth set, the Anteaters won by eight points at 25-17.

The whole match, but especially the final set, was a true nail-biter. UCI went ahead early but the Cardinal tied it at 7-7. Irvin then had two critical kills to put the Cardinal ahead at 11-9. When the Anteaters took the lead at 13-12 and Stanford found itself in dangerous territory, however, Maples seemed incredibly on edge and both teams seemed nervous but confident.

It was Stanford’s consistent and impressive service game that gave them the final advantage, to rally the team from behind and produce the last critical points of the match. Senior Scott Sakaida, a serving specialist, served the last three points of the match, creating the opportunity for Stanford to control the last three points in order to get the best attacks. This, and an attack error by UCI at 13-13, were what closed out the match for the Cardinal.

The very last point was a team effort led by Irvin and Mochalski. The two seniors have been critical to Stanford’s success and leadership of the team, making it fitting that the match would end with them. Irvin chased down a ball, and Mochalski ended with the kill to win the match.

“Irvin chasing down that ball in the last rally of the match, and us being patient in that situation, was key,” Kosty said. “We didn’t go for the kill right away. We wanted to see if we could get a better opportunity and we did.”

Stanford will travel to Provo, Utah on Thursday to play Pepperdine in the first semifinal match of the MPSF Tournament. On the other side of the bracket, BYU will host No. 4 seed UC-Santa Barbara in the second semifinal match. The winners of the two matches will face each other in the championship match next week.

Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.