The No. 6 Stanford hits the road this Saturday to take on No. 2 Long Beach State in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) quarterfinals this weekend. At this point, a loss will likely mean the end of the season for the Cardinal (15-12, 12-12 MPSF) as only four teams make the NCAA Tournament.
The two previous meetings with the 49ers have resulted in 3-0 and 3-2 Cardinal losses, but Stanford hopes to reverse that when it matters most.
Long Beach State features a prolific offensive attack lead by junior outside hitter Taylor Crabb. Crabb ranks third in the MPSF with 4.15 kills per set while hitting an exceptional .353 on the season. In the earlier meetings between the two teams this season, Crabb led all players with 15 kills in one match and 17 in the other, while hitting a combined .413. Shutting him down will be crucial for the Cardinal.
Stanford, however, is not to be cowed by Crabb’s numbers. Junior opposite Daniel Tublin stated that the key to stopping any great player down is simply to “take away his tendencies,” and Stanford will be sure to try to do that on Saturday night.
The 49ers are no one-man show, however, as they feature dangerous offensive players at multiple positions—in their last matchup with Stanford on March 30, four players posted double-digit kills. Their offensive attack is controlled by junior setter Connor Olbright, who ranks fourth in the MPSF with 10.76 assists per set.
Long Beach State also brings a lot of balance on the defensive end. The 49ers are ranked first in the MPSF in digs per set, and fourth in opposing hitting percentage. Long Beach State has three players in the top 15 in digs per set, demonstrating that they have defensive playmakers all over the court.
Stanford, however, is more than ready for the challenge of the 49ers. The Cardinal enters the match having won three of its past five games, including a massive 3-2 victory over then-No. 5 Cal Baptist. Stanford also played Long Beach State tough in the last meeting, rallying from a 2-0 to take the match into a fifth set, where the Cardinal ultimately lost.
While Stanford has consistently been led on offense by its star juniors, opposite Brian Cook and outside hitter Steven Irvin, both of whom are in the top 15 in the MPSF in kills per set, the Cardinal has been happy to see other players raising their level of play in recent weeks.
The junior middle blocker tandem of Denny Falls and Eric Mochalski has averaged 15 kills and nine blocks a game between them over the past five games, while Tublin has chipped in eight kills and five digs per contest over the same span.
Similar to the 49ers, the Cardinal features a strong defensive effort, ranked third in the MPSF in digs per set and fifth in opposing hitting percentage. In what is certain to be a defensive battle, Stanford hopes that its recent uptick in offensive performance from supporting players will be enough to overcome Long Beach State.
If Stanford wins, they will still face an uphill battle in the quest for the MPSF championship, as they face the winner between No. 2 UC-Irvine and No. 7-UC Santa Barbara. Surviving that will put them in the championship match, where a rematch with No. 1 BYU likely awaits.
Stanford needs to win all three of these games to put themselves in position to compete for the NCAA Championship. The Cardinal’s quest for its third national championship will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Long Beach.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at amikk ‘at’ stanford.edu.