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Men’s volleyball closes season with pair of top-five foes

Stanford men’s volleyball prepares for its last two games of the regular season this weekend. The Cardinal will be playing No. 5 Cal Baptist and No. 1 BYU at home at Maples Pavilion today and tomorrow, respectively.

While the No. 8 Cardinal (14-11) knows it will be going to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, this weekend will be critical in terms of postseason seeding. Stanford’s success in the MPSF Tournament is essential if the Cardinal wishes to go to the NCAA Tournament, and a higher seed will provide the Cardinal with a much-needed advantage.

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Junior middle blocker Eric Mochalski (13) will be a crucial part of Stanford’s attack as it looks to get important wins over Cal Baptist and BYU this weekend. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

The team is coming off an uneven week in which it fell to No. 4 UC Irvine but then rallied to win against unranked UCSD. While the UC Irvine game was close — and junior outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin combined for a total of 17 kills — the Anteaters proved to be too much for the inconsistent Cardinal to overcome.

However, Stanford was resilient in the next contest by beating the Tritons with a dominant offensive performance. Irvin, Cook, and junior middle blocker Eric Mochalski all had double-digit kills and the Cardinal won in three sets.  It returned home from its road trip sitting at seventh place in the MPSF but with a strong attacking performance that may provide the team with some confidence going into its remaining two regular season matches.

The Cardinal will need to maintain its poise if it hopes to beat both the first- and fifth-ranked teams in the nation. BYU has been ranked No. 1 for six straight weeks and will be the No. 1 seed in the MPSF tournament regardless of this weekend’s outcome.

Stanford lost its first match against BYU — which was at Smith Fieldhouse back in February — in five sets but showed tremendous composure in a very intense and aggressive road environment. While BYU has only lost four matches this season and had not lost for over a month, the Cougars were swept in their most recent match against No. 3 UCLA.

Stanford should focus on containing junior hitter Taylor Sanders and must be aggressive from the start if it hopes to hold off the No. 1 team in the nation. The Card is also looking for another strong performance from Mochalski, who hit .533 last match in what was one of his best games on the season.

The team will also face No. 5 Cal Baptist this weekend. While Cal Baptist is ineligible for the MPSF this year because it is new to the conference, the Lancers have been successful lately with a four-game winning streak and their highest ranking of the season. Back in February, Stanford beat the Lancers during their first match up of the season in one of the Cardinal’s few road wins this year.

Cal Baptist senior outside hitter Levi Cabral was named the MPSF Player of the Week on Tuesday after the team’s 2-0 performance against two top-10 opponents last week. The Cardinal defense, especially blocking defense, will need to contain the 6-foot-6 hitter, who collected a combined 24 kills and 11 digs against No. 7 UCSB and UCLA. Stanford must concentrate on service return with Cabral’s powerful service game and will need to combine strong defense with an offensive performance similar to the one it had against UCSD.

Maples has been a critical tool to the Cardinal’s success this season, with the team only losing two games at home. It will also be Jake Kneller’s senior night on Saturday, so the team will be hoping for strong home crowd to give it an edge in a critical last weekend before the MPSF Tournament.

Stanford and Cal Baptist squares off at 7 p.m. today and the contest against BYU is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat “at” stanford.edu.

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