The No. 8 Stanford men’s volleyball team hosted two top-five opponents over the weekend, facing then-No. 5 UC-Santa Barbara on Friday and No. 3 UCLA on Monday. Stanford went 1-1 for the two matches, sweeping UCSB but losing to UCLA in five brutally close sets.
The Cardinal played impressive volleyball, with consistent defense and aggressive offense, and looked determined throughout both games to stop the cycle of wins and losses it has been in all season. While Stanford ended with a loss against UCLA, the match was so close that if the last two points had gone the other way, Stanford would have left Maples Monday with a win. Stanford is now 9-6 overall and 6-6 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Against No. 5 UCSB, Stanford came out strong and steady, sweeping the Gauchos 25-17, 25-18, 25-17. It was Stanford’s defense that was truly incredible and the defining factor in the win. Stanford limited the Gauchos to a .011 hitting percentage for the match, the second-lowest percentage recorded by an opponent in Stanford’s history. Stanford had an impressive blocking night with an all-time record of 21.5 blocks and three players recording more than seven blocks for the match.
Furthermore, the normally strong UCSB offense recorded more errors than kills for the night, with 11 errors and only 10 kills. The Cardinal also held UCSB to zero aces for the night, which was critical to the Cardinal win because UCSB’s service game is normally a strong advantage and a weapon.
Senior opposite Eric Mochalski led the Cardinal with 13 kills and had only one error for the whole match. He hit .667 while Stanford hit a consistent .373 overall. Mochalski earned MPSF Conference Player of the Week honors for his performance against UCSB. He had a season-high seven digs and five blocks to go along with his .667 hitting percentage. Sophomore middle Conrad Kaminski led the Cardinal in its blocking, with a season-best eight blocks. Another sophomore, setter James Shaw, also contributed seven blocks.
While UCSB did lead at points throughout each set, Stanford never lost its composure, remaining confident and continuing to control the Gauchos’ offense. The strong Cardinal offense proved too much for UCSB; the team struggled in areas in which it normally excelled. The Gauchos seemed overwhelmed by how aggressively the Cardinal played and were hard-pressed to gain any momentum during the match.
Although Stanford had the clear upper hand throughout Friday’s match against UCSB, the Cardinal and No. 3 UCLA seemed equally matched from the beginning of the match on Monday night. Stanford mounted a comeback that barely fell short of what would have been quite the win for the Cardinal. Instead, Stanford left Maples with a heartbreaking loss and once again an even record in conference play as it fell 23-25, 26-28, 25-20, 25-19, 15-17.
The fifth set saw Stanford playing catch-up, with the Cardinal tying the match at 14-14. It was an intense final set and the crowd really got behind the team, helping push Stanford to fight until the end. In the end, UCLA was able to string together two points in a row to beat the Cardinal 17-15. UCLA had seemed slightly more in control the whole night, and they used this confidence in the final two points of the match.
Senior Steven Irvin finished with 17 kills and a match-high 13 digs. Fellow senior outside hitter Brian Cook finished with 17 kills and just one hitting error, hitting a .400 for the match while also recording four blocks. While Stanford’s offense was strong throughout the match, UCLA was able to capitalize on the few errors the Card did have. Furthermore, the Cardinal did not take advantage of opportunities it had to pull ahead in the first two sets, forcing it to play catch-up and use its energy to come from behind.
Stanford will return to the road this week – after a long stretch at home – and will play No. 5 Long Beach State on Feb. 28 and Cal State Northridge on March 1.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.