The mark of a good team is righting the ship and making the necessary adjustments to improve on its mistakes the next time out. The Stanford men’s volleyball team, ranked No. 2 in the nation, has a chance to prove that it can make these adjustments coming off a weekend split against Pepperdine and USC.
The Cardinal (12-3, 9-2 MPSF) will face UC-San Diego (3-13, 1-10) and No. 3 UC-Irvine (12-3, 8-3) in a rematch of the games played two weeks ago, in which the Cardinal swept its Southern California foes on the road.
Defending its home turf will continue to be crucial for Stanford if the team hopes to keep pace with top-ranked and first-place UCLA in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) conference race. The Cardinal currently stands one game behind the Bruins and one slip-up could prove to be the difference at the end, especially in a conference as tough as the MPSF.
“You can’t breathe that sigh of relief in the MPSF until you score the final point, and that’s something we can do better,” senior captain Brad Lawson said. “Battling until the end and maintaining focus and intensity over the course of an entire match.”
The challenge for the Cardinal on Friday may very well be the focus and intensity Lawson talked about. Stanford will take on cellar-dwelling UCSD in a warm-up for its match against UCI on Saturday. The Tritons come into the match having lost their past six matches, two of them coming from last week at the hands of Cal State-Northridge and Long Beach State.
The last time these two teams met, Stanford prevailed in four sets thanks to standout performances from Lawson, senior Evan Barry and sophomore Brian Cook. Stanford was able to have its way offensively, cruising to 60 kills on 99 attempts with a .455 hitting percentage. Three players—Lawson, Cook, and sophomore Steven Irvin—each finished with 15 or more kills.
The key to stalling UCSD’s attack will once again be stopping redshirt junior Carl Eberts and sophomore Vaun Lennon, both of whom average better than 2.5 kills per set. Also joining in the mix will be emerging junior Johl Awerkamp, who posted the match high for kills in both of UCSD’s matches last week.
Against UC-Irvine, the team that currently sits one game behind the Cardinal in the conference standings, the game plan should be more of the same: efficient offense and solid defense.
In Stanford’s three-set win over the Anteaters two weeks ago, the Cardinal’s hitters were able to hit for a combined .463 hitting percentage, an impressive performance against anyone, especially the No. 3 team in the country. Momentum, however, may have been the key to the match. The Cardinal was able to seize control following a marathon first set, fighting off eight set points before a kill from Irvin won the set for Stanford.
The Anteaters head into the weekend on a three-game win streak, thanks to outstanding play by senior All-American Carson Clark and juniors Chris Austin and Kevin Tillie. Much of Stanford’s success last time can be attributed to keeping Clark and Tillie in check, as the duo was held to a combined .238 hitting percentage for the match.
When the Cardinal plays high-percentage volleyball, it has been hard to beat this season. In all three of Stanford’s defeats, the Cardinal was thoroughly out-hit, including a weak performance in its disappointing loss to USC last Saturday.
“After watching film we saw that we just need to do the little things better. Cover our hitters better, better block moves, and then we’ll continue to improve our serve-and-pass game,” Irvin said. “If we improve on all of these things we should great in the tight matches.”
Stanford is back in action tonight and tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion.