Stanford men’s volleyball will travel down south to Los Angeles this weekend to play two top-ten teams, both of which are coming off losses on the road. The No. 10 Cardinal (10-7, 7-7 Pac-12), coming off of their own loss against Long Beach State, will be playing their first road matches in three weeks as they take on No. 4 Pepperdine on Friday and No. 6 USC on March 9.
Pepperdine experienced its first loss in its last four matches this past weekend, losing to No. 2 BYU in Utah. Despite this loss, Pepperdine has been playing very impressive volleyball and is currently 9-4 overall. Stanford has won eight of its last 10 meetings against Pepperdine but the Waves have a historic advantage against the Card 27-8 when playing at home.
Furthermore, Pepperdine has only lost once at home this regular season, when it lost in five sets to UC-Santa Barbara. The Cardinal will have to play aggressively in order to become the second team this season to beat Pepperdine in Malibu. So far this season, the Cardinal are 0-5 in five-set matches, showing a lack of ability to clean up close matches. But Stanford has not been swept this season and have themselves swept eight teams so far this season.
John Kosty’s squad should therefore look to gain any early lead by coming out aggressively and limiting its mistakes. If the Cardinal can gain an early lead, its defense is strong enough that it should be able to hold on to the advantage. It is when the Cardinal face close sets that they enter dangerous territory and are unable to demonstrate strength in critical points.
Stanford will have an equally tough opponent on Sunday when facing No. 6 USC. While USC has had a less consistent year than Pepperdine and has lost three times at home, Stanford should not underestimate the Trojans coming into the match. USC is also coming off a loss at BYU and will be looking to regain its momentum upon returning to the Galen Center before hitting the road again.
One of the major keys to a successful weekend for the Cardinal will be to use their service game as an advantage by limiting all service errors. Stanford has had a very up and down service game so far this season; when Stanford’s service game is strong it is a major advantage but when the Cardinal make mistakes from the service line, it is often the area their opponent capitalizes off the most. In Stanford’s loss against Long Beach State last weekend, they struggled behind their serves and Long Beach State was able to use Cardinal errors to their advantage. If Stanford is able to limit its service game miscues, it will gain an offensive edge against opponents that will be hard for either USC or Pepperdine to shut down.
Another critical component to a victorious road trip for the Cardinal will be the continued leadership of senior outside hitter Brian Cook, who has been leading Stanford’s offense in kills per match in recent weeks. Stanford will also look to senior opposite Eric Mochalski, who was named MPSF Player of the Week on Feb. 24.
Overall, the Cardinal’s offense has been strong throughout the entire season, but Stanford has struggled with limiting its mistakes. The Card have played well in losses this season that they ultimately dropped when they allowed their opponents to gain critical advantages in the final moments. If Stanford is able to remain strong throughout the whole match and not allow either Pepperdine or USC to gain a late-match advantage, then Stanford can have a successful road trip and leave Los Angeles with much-needed momentum for the final stretch of the season.
The closing few weeks of the season will be very telling for the Cardinal, who have had some very impressive wins but more often have had tough losses that they could have won.
The Cardinal will play Pepperdine in Malibu at 7 p.m. on Friday and USC in a Sunday matchup on March 9. The USC match will be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.