The No. 3 Stanford men’s volleyball team came up short against top seeded Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA title match on Saturday evening, falling to the Ramblers in four sets (25-17, 19-25, 25-19, 25-15) in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,485. While the Cardinal fought hard, Loyola-Chicago and its home court advantage proved too much for Stanford, which was seeking to win its third national title in program history. Stanford is now 2-3 in NCAA championship matches.
Loyola-Chicago won its first ever NCAA Championship and became the first school to win an NCAA title on its home court since Stanford in 2010, the last time the Cardinal won the tournament. Loyola-Chicago (29-1) had an outstanding season, losing only one match, while Stanford (24-9) had a tougher time earlier in the season but had an impressive 13-match winning streak coming into the postseason.
Loyola-Chicago hit its way to a win on Saturday, posting a .452 hitting percentage as a team. The Ramblers also outblocked the Cardinal 8.5 to 5.5 and had a better night from the service line.
The first set was close at the start, with the two teams going back and forth in the opening points. But the Ramblers began to push ahead, hitting .696 for the set. After being tied, two kills from Loyola put them up 15-13 and set them on an eight-point run. Suddenly, the set was 23-15 for the Ramblers. Especially key to Loyola’s first set success was the service game of Thomas Jaeschke, who had four straight points from the service line. Loyola won the set 25-17, outhitting Stanford .696 to .296. The set ended on a service error by the Cardinal.
In the next set, Stanford tried to put the first set behind it and came out aggressively. The team went up early in the set and had back-to-back aces from sophomore setter James Shaw to push it to a 14-9 lead over the Ramblers. This set, Stanford was the one to go on a run, getting seven points and forcing Loyola to call a timeout. Although Loyola cut the lead to six, Stanford won the second set 25-19, hitting much better with a .444 percentage. Shaw had 21 assists in the second set alone. Senior Eric Mochalski closed out the second set with a kill.
With the match tied 1-1, the two teams were on a mission to gain an advantage in the match. The intensity was high and the crowd was full of energy. The Ramblers went up early in the third, hitting an incredibly high .857 in the opening points. Despite impressive hitting by senior Brian Cook and blocking by senior Steven Irvin and sophomore Conrad Kaminski, Stanford could only cut Loyola’s lead to one, never getting a lead in the third set. Loyola won set three 25-19, putting the Cardinal down 2-1 in the match.
Set four, which Stanford needed to win to force a fifth set, was not any better for the Cardinal, which once again trailed early. Loyola went on a 5-0 run to go up 13-6, putting any fifth-set hopes in doubt early. Two Stanford errors then built on Loyola’s lead, with Stanford seeming less and less its normally steady and confident self. Loyola had a late ace to put it up 21-12 with the offense running efficiently and without mistakes. Faced with an insurmountable deficit, Stanford lost the set and match on a service error. The Cardinal also lost the first set on a service error, even though the team typically finds an ally in its service game.
Stanford’s offense was led once again by senior All-American Brian Cook in his last match for the Cardinal. Cook has been a central part of Stanford’s success this season and has helped to define Stanford volleyball with smart, strong and consistent play. He led the team in kills for the 24th time this season with 15 kills and a .243 hitting percentage. Fellow senior All-American Steven Irvin had 10 kills in the match and four blocks. Kaminski, who averages over a .500 hitting percentage this season, hit .417 and had seven kills. Shaw held the offense together and provided great attack opportunities with his 39 assists. He also had two aces in the match, something Stanford could have benefited from having more of. Both Cook and Shaw were selected to the All-Tournament team.
Junior Cody Caldwell led the Ramblers’ offense with a double-double of 20 kills and 10 digs, earning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Caldwell hit .562 in the match. Joe Smalzer and Thomas Jaeschke also had double-doubles in the match with 12 kills apiece. And Peter Hutz anchored the offense with 47 assists, guiding the team to its first national title.
Despite the disappointing outcome for the Cardinal on Saturday, the team has much to be proud of. Starting 6-7 in conference, Stanford showed that a team truly can turn a corner and redefine its season. The team had a 13-match winning streak, beating out top teams to earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Most recently, Stanford beat BYU in the Final Four after having come up short against the Cougars three times earlier in the season.
Stanford has reminded the volleyball community that it is a strong program with confidence and talent that is only continuing to grow and mature.
Contact Eliza Thomson at elizat ‘at’ stanford.edu.