The month of March has proven unkind to the No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball team. After winning 12 of its first 15 matches, the Cardinal has gone 2-2 in the past week, entering a 22-day break after last night’s loss to No. 14 Hawaii in Maples Pavilion.
Wednesday evening’s 3-1 defeat (20-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23) to the Warriors was all the more painful because just one night before, Stanford (14-5, 11-4 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) beat Hawaii (7-12, 4-10) in the same number of sets.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the team responds to real adversity for the first time. A theme has developed for the Cardinal–despite consistent play from senior All-Americans Brad Lawson and Erik Shoji, Stanford has struggled in matches in which the supporting cast has not been at its best–which it will need to address in order to be successful in the deep MPSF.
Tuesday night’s match was successful for the Card due in large part to sophomore Steven Irvin and senior Gus Ellis. Irvin paced the Cardinal with 19 kills en route to a career-high night, and Ellis was a perfect eight-for-eight on his hitting attempts. The team won a hard-fought match 22-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-23, the likes of which the team’s ardent supporters have come to expect.
Despite losing a sloppy first set in which the two teams combined for 11 service errors, including four in a row at one point, Stanford was able to find its footing in the second. Trailing 8-10 after yet another service error, the Card embarked on a 10-3 run that was catalyzed by an Ellis solo block. After trading points for much of the rest of the set, Ellis, alongside sophomore Brian Cook, came up with a crucial block to seal the set for Stanford.
Stanford’s offense, which had struggled in the first two sets, came to life in the third. The Cardinal would hit .481 as a team for the rest of the match, with Ellis and Irvin leading the way. The two contributed 16 of their combined 27 kills in the final two games, including Irvin’s eight fourth-quarter kills and his match-deciding point.
On Wednesday night, the Warriors would return the favor in almost identical fashion. Stanford won the first set, holding Hawaii to a .237 hitting percentage, by far its lowest clip of the match, while the Card hit .387.
The tides turned in the second set for Hawaii, when the Cardinal’s offense came to a halt. The Warriors were able to best Stanford’s lowly .194 hitting percentage in the set by using a balanced attack, with five different Hawaii hitters registering kills in the set.
Senior Steven Hunt, who led the Warriors with 22 kills in the match, was instrumental in the team’s third set victory, registering three early kills to give Hawaii a 5-3 lead. Despite going back and forth, Stanford was never able to take the lead. Hawaii capitalized, reeling off five straight points to close out the set after blocking Lawson.
The final set of the match belonged to Hawaii freshman and German national J.P. Marks, who tallied eight of his career-high 18 kills in the final and deciding set. Despite holding a 19-18 lead and tying the score at 23, Stanford was unable to come up with the big plays necessary to prolong the match one set further.
Cook and Lawson finished with a combined 35 kills for the Cardinal, but it was enough, as the rest of the team hit a paltry .244. Senior Evan Barry had 48 assists and 12 digs in the loss.
Stanford will have an extended break to rest and regroup before resuming the grueling final stretch of MPSF play.
“We will look at what weaknesses they exploited and work to fix those,” Irvin said after the loss.
The Cardinal has until March 30 to work out the kinks, when it will head to Malibu, Calif. to take on Pepperdine.