The Stanford men’s volleyball team won’t have much time to rest, as it received an at-large berth to an NCAA play-in match this afternoon in Chicago after a disappointing loss to BYU in the finals of the MPSF Tournament over the weekend. In that play-in match, the No. 3 seed Cardinal (22-8) will face No. 6 seed Erskine College (21-6), with the winner of the match advancing to the NCAA semifinals.
A win would take Stanford to the NCAA Tournament for its first appearance since the 2010 season, when Stanford won the championship and brought home its second national title. If Stanford advances, it will set up a rematch with second-seeded BYU with a spot in the national championship match on the line.
Despite being swept by BYU last weekend, Stanford has had a dominant and otherwise perfect ending to the season. The Cardinal were on a 13-match winning streak and had not yet been swept during the season. The keys to Stanford’s 13-game winning streak and success were its confident and aggressive offense that was balanced with consistency and patience. Against BYU, Stanford had more errors than normal and seemed flustered and lacking momentum at points throughout the match. If the team wants to beat Erskine, they have to get the bad taste of the BYU loss out of their mouths and play as they did before losing the MPSF Tournament.
Senior All-American Brian Cook has been paramount to Stanford’s success, averaging 3.81 kills and 4.30 points per set. He is hitting .353 for the season and brings leadership and guidance to the team, keeping calm under pressure and stepping up in big moments. The Cardinal have another All-American in sophomore setter James Shaw, who is the driving force for the offense’s consistency. Also vital to Stanford’s offense are senior Steven Irvin with a .295 attack percentage this season and senior Eric Mochalski with a .294 attack percentage. Impressively, sophomore Conrad Kaminski has not only maintained, but has actually increased his league-leading percentage to .509.
As a team, the Cardinal average 13.6 kills per set and limit their opponents to 11.3 kills per set. The team has a hitting percentage of .335 and has only been outhit a few times this season, but has lost several matches despite outhitting their opponents. One of Stanford’s strong suits is its service game, with 154 aces so far this season.
Erskine is a new team to collegiate competition and is in just its second season of play. The team earned an automatic berth by sweeping Mount Olive in their conference tournament, the Conference Carolinas Championship. Sophomore outside hitter Mike Michelau, who was the tournament’s most valuable player, leads the Flying Fleet’s offense. He averages a .256 attack percentage and over four kills per set, with over 359 kills so far this season. He is the only Erskine player that averages over four kills per set, with Roberto Vargas coming in second with 3.73 kills per set.
As a team, Erskine averages a .268 attack percentage and 13.6 kills per set. Like Stanford, Erskine is very strong from behind the service line with 155 aces so far this season. Furthermore, it has limited opponents to just 81 aces, providing the team with a strong advantage from the service line. Its major weakness has been blocking, having been consistently out-blocked by opponents throughout the season.
Because Erskine is outside of Stanford’s league and the two have never faced each other before, it is difficult to know how the two teams will match up. Many view Stanford’s conference, the MPSF, as the toughest in the country. Erskine’s league is less competitive and the Flying Fleet therefore has not faced many top-ranked opponents this year. The only two common opponents Erskine and Stanford have shared this season were Lewis University and Cal Baptist, both of which Stanford defeated. Erskine, however, lost to Lewis.
The Cardinal have two major advantages: Stanford faced tougher opponents and has experience and success in the NCAA Tournament. This will be Erskine’s first time ever in the tournament.
The match will be played at Loyola University in Chicago, the No. 1 overall seed and tournament host, this afternoon at 4 p.m.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.