Stanford men’s volleyball will take to the road this weekend to play their last two matches of the regular season in Southern California. The No. 4 Cardinal (18-7, 15-7 MPSF) have already secured a spot in the MPSF Tournament, so the team knows these will not be its last matches of the season. However, these last games will decide where the Cardinal will be ranked in conference heading into the conference tournament; the Cardinal are currently in third but could move into second with a pair of wins and one or more Pepperdine losses. Stanford will first face No. 6 UC-Irvine (17-9, 14-8) in a tough Friday matchup before heading down to San Diego to play UC-San Diego (3-22, 1-21) on Saturday.
Stanford has been on an impressive winning streak since the beginning of March, having won its last nine matches in a row. However, only three of those nine matches were on the road, with each of the last six coming at home during the final homestand of the season. Earlier in the season, the Cardinal struggled with consistency and intensity while on the road and lost all matches that went into five sets. Stanford will have to bring a strong team dynamic and aggressive offense this weekend in order to keep its winning streak alive.
While Stanford swept UC-Irvine at Maples earlier this season, Irvine is also currently on a winning streak and has won eight of its last nine matches. The Anteaters are currently in fifth place in the conference and need to win at least one match this weekend to qualify for the MPSF Tournament and two to gain home-court advantage in the quarterfinals.
UCI is coming off of a season-high hitting performance last week against UC-San Diego in which it hit an impressive .561 and was led by senior outside hitter Jeremy Dejno, who had a match-high 20 kills. Libero Michael Brinkley also had a strong individual performance with 10 digs for the night, allowing UCI’s offense to dominate against a shaky UCSD team.
UC-San Diego is also coming off a season-high hitting night against UC-Merced in which it hit .554 as a team. It also had an impressive serving night with a season-high 11 service aces. While it had success against UC-Merced, UCSD has had a terrible season and has lost its last six meetings with the Cardinal, including two matches earlier this season.
Stanford is entering these two last matches of the season averaging over 13 kills per set and a .336 attack percentage. More impressively, the Cardinal have limited their opponents to a .234 average throughout the season and have held many teams to season-low averages. Stanford’s defense and its ability to maintain control of points and force opponents to make errors has been crucial this season, especially during its recent winning streak.
Another advantage Stanford has against both UCI and UCSD is its service game. This season, Stanford has served 136 aces and has averaged 1.5 aces per set while averaging less than 1 service error per set. The Cardinal’s offense is led by senior outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin, who both average over 3 kills per set and have recorded over 300 kills combined this season.
Both Friday’s match against UC-Irvine and Saturday’s match against UC-San Diego to close out the regular season will start at 7 p.m.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.