The No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball team will head into Saturday with all of the momentum in the world on its side, as it has dominated as of late en route to its current 11-match winning streak. Next, the Cardinal (20-7, 17-7 MPSF) will look to carry that momentum through into the postseason as they will host No. 6 UC-Irvine (18-10, 15-9) in an MPSF Tournament quarterfinal match this Saturday at Maples Pavilion. Stanford is seeded third in the eight-team tournament and therefore has the home-court advantage over the sixth-seeded Anteaters.
Despite having won both regular season matches against UC-Irvine, including a sweep at Maples back in February, Stanford should expect and is indeed prepared for a tough match. Last week’s tilt between the two teams hosted by Irvine was a very close five-set thriller — demonstrating how strong and evenly matched both teams can be. While the Card have home-court advantage on their side — and Maples normally provides an edge for the Cardinal — the Anteaters are nonetheless an exceptionally talented team. Furthermore, the stakes are as high as they’ve been all season, as both squads are playing for a spot in the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament. The two teams have met three times in the history of the MPSF Tournament, with UCI having won two matches and Stanford having claimed the third.
Stanford currently holds the longest winning streak in the country and has established itself as one of the top teams in both the MPSF and NCAA. After struggling on the road earlier this season, the Cardinal found their rhythm and unity as a team. Their offense is one of the most consistent and aggressive in the conference, leading the league in both hitting percentage, with a .334 average, and aces, with 1.44 per match. Stanford’s seniors have been critical to the team’s success, especially outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin. Both players average well over 3 kills per set, with Cook averaging an impressive 3.68 per set; they also boast an attack percentage north of .300, with Cook at .346 and Irvin at .313. Sophomore Conrad Kaminski has the highest attack percentage in the MPSF and is the only player to average above a .500 percentage. Classmate and setter James Shaw is also a valued asset to the team, with his 10.78 assists per set helping to keep the offense strong, steady and dominant.
John Kosty’s defense is another critical component to the team’s success. The team has limited opponents, on average, to a hitting percentage of less than .250. As a unit, Stanford averages 9.75 digs per set, with libero Grant Delgado leading the way at 2.44 digs per set. Irvin averages 1.85 digs per set — outstanding for an outside hitter — contributing in a major way on both defense and offense. The Cardinal are also a strong blocking team and multiple times this season have been outhit by an opponent yet have still won because of superior blocking. Stanford has totaled 233.5 blocks this season while opponents count only 197.5 in the same category.
Despite losing to Stanford last week, the Anteaters still ended their regular season in dominating fashion. UCI has won 11 of its last 14 matches and has worked its way into a three-way tie for fifth-place in the MPSF, alongside UCLA and Long Beach State. UCI also has experience with success in the MPSF Tournament, having won the conference championship two years ago. In that tournament, they were the No. 4 seed and defeated Stanford in a five-set match to win the title. The Anteaters also beat Stanford to win the 2003 MPSF Championship title. The squad averages over .300 in hitting percentage this season (.308) and rarely has an off night on offense. Senior Scott Kevorken leads the unit with a .445 attack percentage, the third highest in the MPSF.
The other MPSF quarterfinal matches will also take place this Saturday, with No. 1 BYU hosting No. 8 USC, No. 2 Pepperdine playing No. 7 Long Beach State and No. 4 UC-Santa Barbara taking on No. 5 UCLA. Tickets to the Stanford match are currently on sale, with the first 250 students receiving free admission to the 7 p.m. match.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.