An exciting weekend for the Stanford men’s volleyball team featuring the collegiate debuts of several team members, new career-highs and a record-setting performance all distracts the observer from the most important statistic regarding the team’s matches: 2-0. As in two wins and no losses for the fourth-ranked Cardinal (3-0), following successful matches against Juniata (1-1) and No. 14 Loyola-Chicago (2-4).
The team’s home opener pitted the Cardinal against Div. III Juniata, with the Cardinal prevailing in four sets, 25-13, 20-25, 25-14, 25-14. Junior outside hitter Jake Kneller set a career high with 10 kills, and sophomore outside hitter Brian Cook matched him, pacing a sizzling Stanford attack that as a team hit .515 for the match. The performance was the third-highest percentage in school history during the rally-scoring era.
While the team played 14 of the 20 players on the roster and featured the collegiate debuts of redshirt freshmen Daniel Tublin, Grant Delgado and Scott “Scooter” Sakaida, the first set belonged to the old guard, as All-American senior outside hitter Brad Lawson had six kills on six attempts. His classmate, middle blocker Gus Ellis, also contributed three kills in the set during which the Cardinal jumped out to an early 6-2 lead and never looked back. The run featured three kills and a service ace by Lawson, as well as a kill by Ellis. Sophomore outside hitter Steven Irvin contributed three kills and two aces during the set.
Head coach John Kosty experimented much more with his lineup during the second set, sitting Lawson, Cook and starting sophomore middle blocker Eric Mochalski (who didn’t play in the first set either) in favor of Kneller, senior outside hitter Jake Vandermeer and redshirt senior middle blocker Charley Henrikson. Juniata took advantage of the opportunity against Stanford’s bench players, using runs of 6-2 and 7-3 to close out the Cardinal, 25-20. Ben Wolff, who finished with five kills in the set, paced Juniata.
Kosty was more conventional with his lineup in the third set, bringing back Mochalski and Cook. It showed, as the Cardinal opened the set on a 10-4 run, largely on the strength of play by Cook and Mochalski, who combined for five kills during the run. The two would finish with 11 kills in the set. Delgado and Tublin registered the first ace and first kill of their respective collegiate careers during the set.
“It is so fun to see my classmates have the successes they have been having. We are all really good friends and have been working hard together since we got here, so to get to play together on the court is a thrill,” Mochalski said.
Tublin and Mochalski led the Cardinal attack in the fourth set with four kills each as the Cardinal finished the match with another set score of 25-14.
Not to be lost in the parade of Stanford attackers was senior setter Evan Barry, who turned in a flawless 51-assist performance.
Having an entire year of starting experience under his belt has been an obvious boost for Barry.
“It’s been a big impact for me, especially coming in replacing such a great setter [in former setter Kawika Shoji]. Having a whole year has definitely improved my confidence, as well as the sophomores having developed further,” he said.
That they have, and it continued to show on Saturday during a record-setting performance against Loyola, in which Mochalski set a Stanford record for hitting percentage in a single match. He finished with 10 kills and no errors in 12 attempts. In addition, Cook continued to lead the team in kills, registering 12. While the focus of the match may have been on those two, they were quick to deflect the praise onto their teammates.
“The record took a team effort. I may get the credit, but I am nothing without the play of my teammates. The passers were lights out. The ball control was tremendous and Barry was setting so well that it all came together,” Mochalski said.
“Barry is doing a great job running the offense, [senior libero Erik] Shoji is killing it on defense and most importantly we have twenty guys bringing it every day in practice,” Cook said.
The Cardinal won in straight sets, 25-19, 25-11, 25-21, winning its second match of the young season over a ranked opponent. Not to be lost in the parade of sophomores were Stanford’s seniors, particularly Lawson, Shoji and Barry.
Lawson, who is no stranger to high-percentage hitting performances himself, most notably his 24-kill, 28-attempt performance in the 2010 national championship, finished with 11 kills at a .476 clip. Shoji was solid as always, registering eight digs from his libero position, and perhaps most impressive of them all may have been Barry, who finished with 39 assists and played a large role in Mochalski’s, and the team’s, performance.
“It’s your role [as a setter] to help other people have good games. I’m proud that he was able to accomplish that, and I’m definitely not going to take that away from him. Having someone as athletic and as good as him only makes my job easier,” Barry said.
The Cardinal begins the first match of its 10-match road swing on Friday at UCLA. The team does not return home until a Feb. 24 date with Pepperdine.