Of the many emotions sport induces, disappointment is unfortunately often at the top of the list. The No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball team was once again confronted with this uncomfortable feeling following a split at home this weekend against UC-San Diego and No. 2 UC-Irvine, one that set the team back in its quest for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title. The Cardinal (13-4, 10-3 MPSF) now sits in a tie for second place with UCI, one and a half games back of first-place UCLA, following a 25-21, 25-15, 22-25, 25-19 win over UCSD on Friday and a 25-21, 17-25, 25-17, 25-15 loss to UCI on Saturday.
Friday’s win over UCSD (3-15, 1-12) was a step in the right direction for the Cardinal following the loss to No. 4 USC the previous weekend. Consistent as ever, All-American outside hitter Brad Lawson continued his remarkable senior campaign, finishing with a match-high 18 kills and a pair of rocket aces that emphatically closed out the match for Stanford. He was joined in double-figure kills by sophomores Steven Irvin and Eric Mochalski, who finished with 15 and 12, respectively.
After a bit of a shaky start in the first set, the Cardinal was able to take control following a 10-4 run that put it ahead 15-10. The Tritons were able to keep the set close, trimming the lead to 22-19 thanks to strong play by junior Johl Awerkamp, who had five kills in the set. Stanford was finally able to close UCSD out on a kill by Mochalski to end it at 25-21.
The second set went more quickly for Stanford, as Lawson, Mochalski and Irvin combined for 14 kills in the set to lead the Cardinal. Lawson finished off UCSD on consecutive kills.
The same fighting spirit that allowed UCSD to stay close in the first set finally prevailed in the third, as the Tritons took the back-and-forth affair. UCSD jumped out to a 14-10 lead on the strength of good defense and opportunistic hitting by Awerkamp. Stanford eventually tied the set at 22 apiece, but it was not enough, as UCSD came up with consecutive blocks to hold on.
Stanford prevailed in the fourth despite more pesky play from the Tritons, who reduced an 18-12 lead to 22-19 before a service error by sophomore Vaun Lennon set up Lawson’s back-to-back aces to finish off the victory.
Looking to build on the momentum of Friday’s success, Stanford came out hoping to make a statement against the Anteaters (14-3, 10-3), but in the end Irvine was the team making the statement.
After a pair of highly competitive sets to open the match, Stanford struggled with its passing, resulting in a .117 hitting percentage in the final two sets of the match. Despite another strong outing from Lawson, who finished with 21 kills, the Cardinal was not able to make a serious run at the Anteaters, a team it had beaten in straight sets just two weeks prior.
The Cardinal started promisingly enough, as Stanford jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the opening set on a combined block by senior Gus Ellis and sophomore Brian Cook. Then things took a turn for the worse, as junior Kevin Tillie took control of the set for UCI en route to a career-high 22 kills for the Anteaters. Stanford mustered just nine kills in the set, as UCI closed out Stanford on consecutive kills by Tillie.
Stanford appeared to regain its footing in the second, finishing the set with a .476 hitting percentage behind eight kills from Lawson. This time, Stanford jumped out to an 11-4 lead and never looked back, trading blows with the Anteaters until the decisive block by Ellis and Irvin.
But then the troubles that plagued the Cardinal the entire night reared their ugly heads in the third set and never disappeared, as Stanford slogged its way through two of its worst sets of the season. The only man for Stanford who seemed to be finding any success was Lawson, who bashed his way through the UCI defense despite minimal offensive help from his teammates.
The Cardinal will look to regain its footing today and tomorrow night against No. 14 Hawaii. Tonight’s match will be in Burnham Pavilion, and Wednesday’s will be in Maples Pavilion, both starting at 7 p.m.