By George Chen
Following an impressive three-set sweep over then-No. 2 UCLA on Senior Night last weekend, the Stanford men’s volleyball team will look to carry its surging momentum further into the postseason.
The victory against UCLA gave Stanford its best conference record since 1997, even better than the 2010 team that would eventually be crowned national champion. But before the Cardinal can think about the fast-approaching NCAA tournament, it must try to win the talent-filled MPSF conference tourney first.
The No. 3 Cardinal (20-6, 17-5 MPSF) is currently riding a five-match winning streak, with four of those victories coming against teams ranked in the national top fifteen. In addition to demolishing the Bruins, the Stanford squad routed then-No. 8 Long Beach State, held off resilient then-No. 12 Cal State-Northridge and dominated then-No. 13 Pacific.
Thanks to a solid all-around group effort that has helped the team win seven out of its last nine games, Stanford is now sitting at the No. 2 seed for the upcoming MPSF tournament. The high seed is crucial for the Cardinal as it will have home-court advantage throughout the tourney against every team except for No. 1 seed USC, which won the MPSF regular season title with an 18-4 conference record and is also currently the No. 1 team in the nation.
The first test for the Stanford crew will be No. 7 seed Pepperdine. The Cardinal beat the Waves in both of the two matches that the teams played against each other during the regular season. The first victory came in late February, when the Cardinal handled the Waves 3-1 at home. The second match was much closer, with Stanford squeaking out a 3-2 win in Malibu, Calif.
A huge contributor to both of Stanford’s wins against Pepperdine was senior outside hitter Brad Lawson, who tallied a total of 33 kills in the two games. The two-time All-American and National Player of the Year candidate will most likely have to come up big once again if Stanford wants to keep Pepperdine out of striking distance throughout the match. Just yesterday, Lawson was named to the All-MPSF First Team, along with senior teammate Erik Shoji, who is arguably the best libero in collegiate volleyball history.
Lawson and Shoji aren’t the only players who are playing exceptionally well going into the postseason. Sophomore Brian Cook, also an outside hitter, was instrumental in the Cardinal’s success against UCLA on Senior Night. In addition to blocking eight shots, Cook had 12 kills and five digs that contributed to the team’s 0.397 hitting percentage. Senior setter Evan Barry will also be commanding a considerable amount of attention from the Waves. The national leader in assists dished out an absurd 40 assists in the team’s win over UCLA.
The No. 2 Cardinal will host the first round of the MPSF tournament against No. 7 Pepperdine at 7 p.m. on Saturday.