During a season in which five teams are separated by one game in the MPSF standings, taking care of business at home has been a top priority.
With No. 8 Long Beach State (13-12, 8-10 MPSF) and No. 12 Cal State-Northridge (10-15, 6-12) coming to the Farm this weekend, plus a date with conference co-leader UCLA the following weekend, the No. 5 Stanford men’s volleyball team must defend its home court if it wants to claim the conference title.
Despite a 9-2 conference road record that includes wins over No. 4 BYU and No. 2 UC-Irvine, the Cardinal (16-6, 13-5) finds itself in fifth place in the conference standings as a result of its home struggles. The team is just 4-3 at home in league play. To complete the task at hand, the team will have to defeat the Long Beach State 49ers, a team Stanford has struggled with in recent memory. Despite outlasting the 49ers in five sets the last time these two squads met, Stanford had lost the previous three meetings with LBSU.
The key to the match when these two teams played earlier in the season was the efficiency of Stanford’s middle blockers, senior Gus Ellis and sophomore Eric Mochalski. The two combined for 16 kills on 24 attempts, which complemented the strong play of the ever-consistent Brad Lawson in propelling Stanford to victory. Stanford is a team that prides itself on good defense and passing; a strong showing from the middle blocker position is a good sign of both.
Luckily for the Cardinal, slowing down the 49ers attack may have gotten a little bit easier this time around, thanks to a knee injury that has sidelined Jim Baughman, LBSU’s leading hitter. The senior, who is averaging 2.89 kills per set, is currently two kills shy of 1,000 career kills. His poor performance the last time out helped Stanford come away with the victory.
Unfortunately for Stanford, LBSU still has a variety of weapons at its disposal, most notably sophomore Taylor Crabb and senior Brad Hemmerling. Both players average better than two kills per set and are a large reason why the 49ers have not struggled in Baughman’s absence. The 49ers are winners of three in a row, a streak that can currently be matched by only two other teams in the conference, No. 1 USC and No. 11 UC-San Diego.
Saturday’s match will prove to be a different kind of test for the Cardinal when it takes on the Cal State-Northridge Matadors. Similar to Long Beach State, Northridge was defeated by Stanford earlier this year on its home floor and is looking to exact some revenge. Unlike LBSU however, the Matadors are not playing their best ball of the season at the moment. Northridge was swept at the hands of BYU last week, mustering just one game in two matches in Provo.
Stanford held off Northridge the last time these two teams played thanks to the play of outside hitter Brian Cook, who may have had the best match of his collegiate career thus far. The sophomore tallied 26 kills on a .450 hitting percentage and also registered 8 digs.
To take down the Matadors a second time, Stanford will have to do a much better job of covering junior middle blocker Jared Moore, who had 13 kills on 14 attempts in the previous meeting between the two schools. Moore leads Northridge this season with a .394 hitting percentage.
Not to be forgotten is freshman sensation Julius Hoefer, the Matadors’ leading hitter at better than three kills per set. The German national poses obvious problems with his 6-9 height. He will be looking to prove himself after Stanford held him to a .200 hitting percentage in the past meeting between the two teams.
A sweep this weekend could do wonders for the team’s chances at a conference title, considering at least two teams ahead of the Cardinal in the conference standings are guaranteed a loss this weekend. Lawson, Cook, Ellis and company will be in action at Maples Pavilion at 7 p.m. on Friday against Long Beach State and again at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Northridge.