The fourth-ranked Stanford men’s volleyball team is hoping to continue on its roll this weekend in Southern California, as the team tries to extend its winning streak past five matches. Wrapping up the ninth and 10th matches of a long 10-match road stretch, Stanford (9-2, 6-1 MPSF) will take on No. 2 UC-Irvine (9-2, 5-2) on Friday night before playing UC-San Diego (3-9, 1-6) on Saturday.
The Cardinal has an opportunity to move into a tie for first place with a sweep this weekend, thanks to a suddenly friendly Long Beach State team upsetting top-ranked UCLA on Tuesday night. With 11 of the team’s final 13 matches at home, this weekend signifies a terrific opportunity for the Cardinal to seize control of the MPSF race.
The good news for those hoping the Cardinal will claim the MPSF title? Stanford has been playing at a high level lately, winning its past five matches all on the road. The Cardinal’s attack features the reigning National Player of the Week in senior outside hitter Brad Lawson and the past two MPSF Players of the Week in Lawson and sophomore outside hitter Steven Irvin.
Stanford also comes off a weekend sweep that allowed the team to exorcise some of its recent demons. The Cardinal snapped a three-match losing streak against Long Beach State before winning for just the seventh time in 23 tries against Cal State Northridge. The Cardinal benefitted from the strong play of Lawson, who was named National Player of the Week following a combined 40-kill effort in the two matches. In addition to Lawson, Stanford’s middle blockers, senior Gus Ellis and sophomore Eric Mochalski, were particularly effective against LBSU, combining for 16 kills and a .625 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside hitter Brian Cook was the man who stepped up for the Cardinal against Northridge, finishing with a career-high 26 kills in Stanford’s four-set match.
For all of Stanford’s recent success, the matches this weekend, especially on Friday, will not be a walk in the park. UC-Irvine features a two-headed attack in senior Carson Clark and sophomore Jeremy Dejno. Both average over three kills per set and maintain a hitting percentage above .300. The Anteaters also come into the match just as hot as Stanford, winners of five in a row, including a road sweep of No. 13 Hawaii last weekend. Prior to Tuesday night, UCI was the only team this season to have beaten UCLA, a team that swept the Cardinal back on Jan. 20. The Anteaters only two losses this season came at the hands of BYU, a team UCI had already beaten earlier in the season.
Regardless of what happens to the Cardinal on Friday night, the team will need to come out focused and ready to play on Saturday. A year ago, this very same UC-San Diego team swept Stanford at home, a loss the Cardinal certainly has not forgotten. The Tritons are lead by redshirt junior Carl Eberts and sophomore Vaun Lennon, who both average better than 2.9 kills per set.
UCSD comes into the weekend having struggled thus far this season. The Tritons were swept at home last weekend and are actually winless at home this year, which has contributed to their 3-9 record and a current last-place standing in the MPSF. This does not mean, however, that the Tritons are not capable of pulling off the upset. UCSD pushed No. 3 BYU to five sets last Saturday before falling in the fifth.
“This weekend is a huge opportunity that you don’t get in very many lifetimes and would be a huge boost of confidence and a catalyst to keep playing strong,” Irvin said. “I think the best part would be to be No. 1 at the end of our rigorous five-week road trip.”
Stanford will play UC-Irvine on Friday at 7 p.m. before taking on UC-San Diego at the same time on Saturday. These are Stanford’s final two matches in a 10-match road stretch before the team returns home for six straight on the Farm.