The No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball squad will face No. 2 BYU in the NCAA Tournament semifinals today in Chicago, Illinois. This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. The tilt will be a rematch of last week’s MPSF conference championship game that BYU won, ending the Cardinal’s 13-match winning streak.
While the Cougars also won the two regular season matchups with Stanford, BYU barely beat out the Card at Maples earlier in the season — and that was before Stanford’s midseason improvement. Plus, with the NCAA Tournament hosted by Loyola University in Chicago, BYU will not be able to feed off of the strong home-court advantage it enjoyed in Provo, Utah.
Still, the Cougars sit atop the national rankings and boast the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, behind No. 1 seed Loyola-Chicago. BYU received a bye to the semifinals by beating out Stanford in the MPSF Championship game. On the other hand, Stanford had to face Erskine College on Tuesday in a play-in match, after not earning an automatic berth to the Big Dance. While No. 6 seed Erskine is a program on the rise, Stanford scored an easy win against the Flying Fleet and seemed more than ready for the increased pressure of the tournament. Although BYU will have had a longer break than Stanford — which could provide the Cougars with much-needed rest — the Cardinal certainly have more momentum. Aside from the loss to the Cougars last Saturday, Stanford has won all of its games in March and April, marking 14 victories in its last 15 contests.
Head coach John Kosty was named the 2014 MPSF Coach of the Year on Wednesday, an award he also won in 2010 when Stanford captured the program’s second national title. Losing only eight matches this season, and only one match in the second half of the season, Kosty has helped form a confident and close unit. The team exhibited incredible perseverance when it went 9-7 to start the season before embarking on the impressive 13-match winning streak. This season, Stanford has downed nine top-10 teams — with BYU being the glaring exception. The Cardinal have yet to find a way to overcome the Cougars’ imposing defense and strong attack.
Stanford has the second-best hitting percentage nationally this season, and is at the top of the MPSF with a .337 mark. One of the keys to the Card’s success has been the key balance the team has maintained between aggression and patience while on the attack, a combination that can be hard to maintain but powerful when a team manages to find the right equilibrium.
All-American Brian Cook leads the Cardinal with 3.81 kills per set and has recorded dominant performances against BYU, hitting .483 against the Cougars. Conrad Kaminski, the only player in the MPSF with an above-.500 hitting percentage, averages 1.08 blocks per set to lead Stanford’s defense. Second-team All-Americans James Shaw and Steven Irvin contribute with consistently strong offensive performances, highlighting the fact that many players on the roster can make big plays and step up in critical moments.
BYU counters with its leading scorer, four-time All-American and MPSF Tournament MVP Taylor Sander. He leads the team in kills and points, with 4.55 kills per set and 5.43 points per set. Sander has yet to have a bad match this season, and can make big plays down the stretch. Michael Hatch has also been critical to BYU’s success this season, with the highest blocking average of any player in the NCAA Tournament at 1.45 blocks per set.
No. 3 seed Stanford will take on No. 2 seed BYU in the NCAA Semifinals at 4 p.m. today in Chicago. Should the Cardinal advance, they will face the victor of the Loyola-Chicago/Penn State matchup in the championship game.
Contact Eliza Thompson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.