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Men’s volleyball aims to wash away Waves in MPSF Semifinals

Stanford men’s volleyball will travel to Provo, Utah on Thursday to play Pepperdine in the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament. The third-seeded Cardinal are looking to continue their impressive 12-match winning streak, earn a spot in the MPSF Championship game and gain an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament after closing out the regular season playing incredible volleyball, with aggressive and consistent performances that have left the team appearing untouchable.

Senior outside hitter Steven Irvin (above)

Senior outside hitter Steven Irvin (above) has been one of Stanford’s most consistent performers this season, starting all 28 matches, co-leading the team in sets played, and ranking second on the squad with 3.27 kills per set. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

They have carried their exceptional play into the postseason, rallying to defeat UC-Irvine in a thrilling five-set quarterfinal tilt that saw the Cardinal trail 13-12 in the fifth set before they pushed back to extend their streak.

“We have to keep elevating our game,” said head coach John Kosty. “Pepperdine is going to come out tough, and they are also a good serving team. We understand what we are good at and we understand how Stanford volleyball wins, and we just have to keep it simple.”

Stanford will have to maintain its patient and poised mindset while continuing to play aggressively and dominate on offense. Teamwork and confidence have been critical to the Cardinal’s success, especially on the road.

Pepperdine downed seventh-seeded Long Beach State in the quarterfinals in a four-set match for the right to play the Cardinal. The Waves are ranked fourth in the MPSF in both kills (13.20) and blocks (2.77) per set. Their offense is led by junior outside hitter Josh Taylor, who averages over 4 kills per set. Pepperdine has had success in the MPSF Tournament, having reached the finals eight times and having won the conference title in 2002 and 2005; it also won the tournament in 2008 but was forced to vacate the win due to NCAA violations committed by the school’s athletics department.

But while Pepperdine is seeded higher in the tournament than Stanford, the Cardinal swept the season series against the Waves, dropping just one set over the course of the two meetings. If Stanford wishes to wash Pepperdine away once again, a key factor will be the play of senior outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin, as well as classmate Eric Mochalski. All three seniors have demonstrated incredible poise and leadership this season, serving as the emotional heart of the team.

They have also led the offensive attack this season, with Cook averaging 4.2 points and 3.7 kills per set, best in that department in 19 matches this season. Most importantly, the Santa Cruz, Calif. native has only been getting stronger as the season has worn on, stepping up his game when necessary to help the Cardinal extend their winning streak. Success in Utah this week will be largely dependent on Cook continuing to shine in major moments.

Another key player for the Cardinal will be sophomore setter James Shaw, who is 10th in the nation in assists per set with an average of 10.78. As a team, Stanford is fourth in the nation with over 12 assists per set.

The winner of the match will earn the opportunity to play for the MPSF Tournament title. The tournament champion will then have an automatic berth into the upcoming NCAA Championships. The NCAA Championship field will consist of six teams, with only two spots available to at-large squads. Thus, both Stanford and Pepperdine will be fighting not only for the chance at the MPSF title, but also for NCAA Tournament positioning.

Stanford’s match will be at 4 p.m today at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse. The second semifinal will see the host, No. 1 seed BYU, play No. 4 seed UC-Santa Barbara later in the evening.

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