The emotions promise to run high in Maples Pavilion this weekend, as the seniors on the Stanford men’s volleyball team will play their final two matches at home and have a chance to end their storied careers in style.
The fifth-ranked Cardinal (18-6, 15-5 MPSF) will take on the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos (7-17, 5-15) on Friday night before squaring off against No. 3 UCLA (21-6, 15-5) on Saturday in a match that has major conference tournament seeding ramifications. In addition to Saturday being Senior Night, a tribute will be held for UCLA head coach Al Scales, who is coaching the final regular season match of his career after 50 years at the helm of the Bruin program.
The winningest senior class in Stanford history, with a career record of 82-32, will hope to send off its seven members with a proper tribute and a win against the rival Bruins on Saturday. UCLA comes into Maples Pavilion on the heels of a disappointing and controversial loss to BYU, one that knocked them out of control of the race for the top seed in the upcoming Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) tournament. The Bruins appeared to have won the match, but that decision was overturned after officials reviewed the final two points and decided them in favor of BYU.
Needless to say, UCLA will be hungry and motivated when it takes the court, not just because of the loss, but also in honor of its coach. Scales, who is considered perhaps the greatest men’s collegiate volleyball coach ever, has led UCLA to 21 national championships.
But in order to set the stage for the matchup with the Bruins, the Cardinal must first take care of business on Friday. Stanford can’t afford to lose focus against UCSB, who stunned No. 4 BYU on the road earlier this season. The Gauchos, who were the national runners-up a season ago, are winners of two in a row, following a sweep of Hawaii last week. They are led by junior Miles Evans and freshman Kevin Donohue, who average 3.49 and 2.73 kills per set, respectively.
Should the Cardinal get past the Gauchos unscathed, a tall order stands ahead of them on Saturday against UCLA. Stanford took perhaps its most lopsided loss earlier this season in Westwood, falling to the Bruins in straight sets and providing little resistance. If things are going to be any different this time around, Stanford’s seven seniors, four of them starters, will have to set the tone.
Outside hitter Brad Lawson is a two-time All-American, National Player of the Year candidate, the school record holder in career aces and the 2010 co-MVP of the NCAA tournament. His 13 kills against UCLA in January easily led the team, and he will have to play well for Stanford to find success.
“This past week of practice has been the most fun week yet just because I’ve finally started to realize how little time remains and that I need to just enjoy each moment,” Lawson said.
“As far as UCLA goes, it’s quite obviously going to be huge for us,” Lawson admitted. “If we get hot and play like we have been this week in practice, I don’t think there’s a team in the MPSF that we can’t contend with.”
Lawson is not the only senior All-American on Stanford’s roster. Libero Erik Shoji is already a three-time All-American, the school and national record holder for digs in a career and in a season, and the reigning MPSF player of the week after tallying 43 digs in Stanford’s three matches last week. Possibly the best libero in collegiate history, he will be crucial in stymieing UCLA’s efficient attack, which hits .334 as a team, good enough for third in the nation.
Setter Evan Barry is a two-year starter and the national leader in assists per set. He is an All-American candidate himself.
Middle Blocker Gus Ellis is a four-year starter who is just three blocks away from breaking the school’s all time blocks record. He, Lawson and Shoji are the three starters who remain from Stanford’s national championship team in 2010.
Dylan Kordic, Charley Henrikson and Jake Vandermeer have all been used more sparingly throughout their Cardinal careers, but each has made important contributions to the Farm during their years here.
The final chance to salute Stanford’s seniors will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, against UCSB, and again at 7 p.m. on Saturday against UCLA.