By Joseph Beyda
As students began to trickle back from winter break, the new-look Stanford men’s volleyball team took to the court determined to demonstrate that despite personnel losses it was still a force to be reckoned with in the MPSF. With victories over Grand Canyon and George Mason, the Cardinal certainly showed that it hasn’t lost a step.
No. 3 Stanford (2-0) lost one of its all-time great classes after last season, with the graduation of three All-Americans — Erik Shoji, Brad Lawson and Evan Barry — as well as four-year starter Gus Ellis. Therefore, coach John Kosty was depending on young players to step up and make the most of their time in the spotlight.
The Cardinal started the match shakily, as Grand Canyon led for much of the opening set. After rallying to tie the match at 22, Kosty sent in sophomore opposite Matt Aiello, who uncorked a powerful serve that paved the way for a Cardinal point. Stanford continued its charge, taking the first set 25-23 and cruising to victory in the second, 25-17.
The inexperience of the Stanford squad began to show at times, as the Cardinal fell behind early and couldn’t rally, dropping the set 25-18. As a result, Stanford came out firing in the fourth, taking the set 25-17.
Freshman setter James Shaw, taking over for Barry, was impressive in his first game, posting 38 assists and seven digs, while also adding six kills. Another addition to the lineup, junior libero Scott “Scooter” Sakaida had a solid debut, with 18 digs.
The graduations also caused a couple position changes, as junior Brian Cook shifted from opposite to outside hitter, while fellow junior Eric Mochalski moved from middle blocker to opposite. Both played extremely well in their new positions, as Cook posted 13 kills and five digs, hitting .312, while Mochalski contributed 10 kills, nine digs, six blocks and an ace.
The graduation of Ellis and shift of Mochalski paved the way for a new starter at middle blocker, Spencer Haly. The sophomore Haly did not play last year, but had a solid debut, with seven kills and eight blocks, while hitting .462.
The victory gave the Cardinal confidence going into its Saturday match with No. 14 George Mason, and it certainly came out firing, taking the first set 25-18. The Patriots fought back in the second set, making a number of incredible defensive plays that flustered the Cardinal attack. Despite a heroic effort from Cook, who posted eight kills with no errors, George Mason stole the set 25-23.
Cook continued his dominance throughout. He finished with 19 kills and hit .500 while adding five digs. The Stanford team rose to his level of play, refusing to let George Mason back into the game and winning the third and fourth sets 25-16 and 25-18.
Shaw had another big game for the Cardinal, posting his first double-double with 46 assists, 10 digs and four blocks. Junior Daniel Tublin, making his first career start at opposite after Mochalski shifted back to middle blocker, added a career-high 14 kills and eight digs. Mochalski had his typical across-the-board effort, with seven kills, three aces, four digs and nine blocks.
The Cardinal hit .378 as a team against the Patriots, while holding them to just a .126 effort, an impressive all-around effort that bodes well for its future performance.
The Cardinal will face the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs on Friday, before opening conference play against Pacific on Saturday. Both games will take place at 7 p.m. at Burnham Pavilion.