Every February, the San Antonio Spurs pack up and hit the road for what has become known as the annual Rodeo Road Trip, so called because the Spurs’ home arena is occupied by the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo for close to a month.
While Maples Pavilion has no plans to host a rodeo any time soon, the Stanford men’s volleyball team seems to find itself away from home rather often this time of year. Last season, the Cardinal played seven games in seven cities and traveled 9,227 miles to do so.
And this weekend, Stanford is set to play at the Ken and Dave Dunlap Invitational, the team’s third and fourth matches of a 10-game road trip that will span five consecutive weekends and 40 days between home matches.
If the No. 4 Cardinal (4-1) needs an added boost to get rid of some of the fatigue that comes with flying cross country, it won’t have to look much further than the other side of the net on Friday, where the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions will certainly be upset-minded in the rematch of the 2010 NCAA Championship. That game saw Stanford win its first NCAA title in 13 years, largely on the back of one of the greatest hitting performances of NCAA Final Four history from senior outside hitter Brad Lawson.
Then a sophomore, Lawson had a remarkable 24 kills in 28 swings with only one error, posting an .824 hitting percentage that is a still a Stanford record for an outside hitter and ranks as one of the top performances of any kind in the NCAA finals.
Friday’s match against the Nittany Lions will be a different affair entirely, however. Penn State (2-1) comes into the weekend after a tough loss to No. 9 Lewis, and despite making the NCAA final in four of the past 13 years, faces a tough road to the Galen Center in 2012.
And Stanford has just two starters left from that championship team — seniors Lawson and libero Erik Shoji. Instead, the Cardinal has gotten much of its firepower from a strong sophomore class, which holds down four spots in the starting lineup — outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin and middle blockers Denny Falls and Eric Mochalski.
Cook and Mochalski in particular have come on strong in their second seasons on the Farm. Cook, a Santa Cruz native, had a career-high 17 kills in the team’s most recent victory over No. 13 Santa Barbara, and Mochalski set the school’s single-match hitting-percentage record in the rally-scoring era with an .833 mark earlier this season against Loyola.
Both players will be tested against Penn State’s lineup, and there won’t be any rest on Saturday when the Cardinal takes on No. 10 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes (5-3) are heating up lately after winning three consecutive matches following a sweep at the hands of Penn State. Stanford’s middle blockers will be hard pressed to slow senior Shane Sangrey, the reigning Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Player of the Week and an NCAA All-Tournament selection last year.
Historically the Cardinal hasn’t had too much trouble with Ohio State, dispatching them all nine times the two have met — which includes a Stanford victory in the 2010 NCAA semifinal.
But the series with the Nittany Lions has been a seesaw affair, with the teams currently deadlocked at 5-5 overall.
The game against Penn State is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. PST from Columbus, Ohio, with Saturday’s matchup set for 4 p.m. PST against the Buckeyes.