When freshmen James Shaw and Josef Ctvrtlik stepped onto Stanford’s campus for the first time this fall, they immediately felt a great burden of responsibility. The two were new members of the Stanford men’s volleyball team, and they had big roles to play.
For one, with last year’s setter Evan Barry ’12 lost to graduation and no setters left on the roster, Shaw and Ctvrtlik were both expected to play large parts in leading the Stanford offense. It was heavy responsibility for players yet to experience the pressure of college volleyball.
Redshirt sophomore opposite Daniel Tublin commented on the spot that they were immediately shoved into, stating that “in their roles as the only two setters, Shaw and Ctvrtlik had to mature quickly to not only learn the tempo and rhythm of the offense, but also lead the other five older guys when things were not running smoothly.” This was certainly a giant task to hand to freshmen untested at that level of play.
Secondly, Shaw and Ctvrtlik had to follow some big footsteps. The previous two key Stanford setters were Barry and Kawika Shoji ’10, legends who both achieved All-American status and are currently playing in professional leagues overseas.
Lastly, both players come from impressive volleyball pedigree. Shaw’s father, Don, is a former Stanford men’s and women’s volleyball coach who led Stanford to four national championships.
Not to be outdone, Ctvrtlik’s father is one of the greatest volleyball players of all time. Bob Ctvrtlik was a two-time most valuable player in the world, as well as a former Olympian. Ctvrtlik appeared in three Olympics, starting in the team that captured gold in 1988, and then serving as team captain for the next two Games, taking bronze in 1992.
Even the jersey numbers inherited by the two carried significant meaning, as Ctvrtlik received four-time All-American Erik Shoji’s No. 1, while Shaw was given Stanford’s all-time block leader Gus Ellis’ No. 3.
With these backgrounds in place, the two faced great expectations the second they walked into Maples Pavilion. At first, both recognized that they were facing unique trials that were unlike anything they had seen at previous levels of competition.
Ctvrtlik stated that “the level of setting in college is a lot quicker than in high school, and all the hitters hit at a much higher spot.” As such, both setters had to adjust their game quickly to adapt to a completely new style of play.
At the same time, Shaw faced another distinct challenge in that he functioned as both an outside hitter and setter on his club and high school teams, and thus had to face the challenge of becoming solely a setter. This transition was tough for him, but ultimately he felt as though “it was one that worked out well for [him] and for [his] future as a volleyball player.”
Neither Shaw nor Ctvrtlik shied away from the challenge. While, in Shaw’s words, “becoming an MPSF caliber player is not easy [and] being a freshman setter is even more difficult,” both worked tirelessly to step up to the plate in their freshman campaign.
From their debut appearances, it was clear that both were able to adjust to the new setting. Shaw started Stanford’s first game of the season with authority, posting 38 assists, seven digs and six kills on eight attempts. He followed this with 46 assists and 10 digs the next night, for his first collegiate double-double.
Ctvrtlik got his chance to shine in the next match, entering for the final two sets and playing impressively, posting 17 assists and seven digs, both match-highs, and even recording a block despite standing at just six-foot-one.
Even so, both Ctvrtlik and Shaw felt as though there were improvements that could be made to bring their games to the next level. A good portion of this was simply realized through the passage of time. With more time to adjust not only to the style of college volleyball, but also the tendencies of the new teammates they were playing with, both were able to make impressive strides.
Ctvrtlik, for example, commented that he definitely saw a distinct improvement in his game as “[he] became more comfortable with the rate of play, as well as bettered [his] relationship with [the] team.”
Later in the season, Ctvrtlik would be given his first chance to start and seized it, putting up 33 assists, eight digs and three blocks in leading Stanford to a 3-0 victory over UC-San Diego.
Ultimately, even if it was a slight down season for the Cardinal, both freshmen left fans and teammates confident of their successes in the future. Shaw proved himself as a worthy inheritor to the starting setter job, as his 10.48 assists per game placed him in the top five in the MPSF, and his overall strong play earned him a spot on the MPSF All-Freshman Team.
These honors were not enough for him, however, as he has lofty goals in sight. He stated that he would love to see his team “grow, challenge each other and keep each other accountable as a family” while on a competitive level win the MPSF regular season title and compete for the national championship.
At the same time, he will not rest until he has “made [himself] into the best setter in the country.” While this is certainly a lofty goal, it is definitely in reach. Rest assured, he will be pushed the whole way by his teammate, friend and fellow competitor, Ctvrtlik. The two have certainly earned their place as leaders on the Stanford team, and they, along with the rest of their stellar freshman class, will be sure that the Cardinal will be a force to be reckoned with in the MPSF for years to come.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at amikk ‘at’ stanford.edu.