By James Hemker
In an upset for the ages and the unquestioned game of the season thus far, No. 9 Stanford men’s volleyball (5-0) took down the second-ranked UC Irvine (5-1) in four sets. This victory marks the third consecutive ranked win for the team, and the Stanford Revenge Tour rolls onward.
Senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert provided the bulk of the offense with a match-high and season-high 20 kills. Sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper added 17 kills of his own. Steady junior setter Paul Bischoff produced another season-high 52 assists, allowing the team to hit at a .342 clip.
Ewert said, “We passed really well. We have Jaylen on the backside, and every team is afraid of him. That opens me up a little bit more. Once I got hot it was too late for their blockers, who were still keying on Jaylen.”
Despite coming into the match with some nerves, the Cardinal immediately jumped out to a big lead in the first set. Jasper connected on back-to-back kills to make the score 5-2. The lead then grew to five at 11-6, but the Anteaters were relentless, tying the game at 14 apiece.
UC Irvine finally claimed its first lead of the night after a Stanford hitting error, making the game 15-16. Irvine then pushed their lead to 16-19. A critical timeout allowed the Cardinal to find their footing, and the score narrowed back to 21-21.
The tension in Maples mounted as the two juggernauts traded points up up to 25. A sign of things to come, Ewert smashed home a kill to give Stanford the set 27-25.
The second set did not fare well for the Cardinal as the Anteaters showed why they were ranked No. 2. Head coach John Kosty said, “The second set was a reminder that they are a really good team. And we have to continually play at a high level or they are going to beat us. It gave us an opportunity to step back up.”
The score spiraled out to 3-8 in the blink of an eye. The five-point lead proved to be too much for the Cardinal even after the lead shrank to 3 (14-17) after a lucky ricochet off the Maples’ jumbotron.
The Cardinal timeout called at 14-20 proved to be too late and the set ended eight serves later, 17-25.
The Irvine big men found momentum and cast a huge shadow. The Stanford offense was limited to hitting just .071 in that second frame. Poor service line performance also plagued the Cardinal who nabbed only one ace through the first two sets.
On playing against a tall team like UC Irvine, coach Kosty said, “The biggest thing is not to go right at the big guys. We needed to spread them out and make them move. We did that well, not great, but well tonight.”
Despite the momentum against them, the Stanford men showcased their resilience in the third set. Bischoff snuck a dump-off between the Anteaters’ big men to grab an early 5-3 lead.
Neither team could gain an advantage while the score rose, tied at 12. UC Irvine then found their stride in a 1-4 rotation to claim a 16-20 lead, which forced a Stanford timeout. Senior leader and libero Kyle Dagostino rallied his troops and the team returned to the floor with a renewed vigor.
After nearly every point, the fifth-year libero would yell out “Next ball, next ball!” Dagostino elaborated, “It’s big for this group. We have a tendency to hold onto errors and mistakes and let our frustrations get the better of us. But if we keep thinking about the next play instead, we showed we can play with anyone in the country.”
From that point on, the game became the Jordan Ewert Show. Ewert terminated two kills in four plays to pull the Cardinal within a single point, 20-21. A massive ace by Jasper was sandwiched by two more Ewert kills, giving Stanford a set point which seemed improbable even 20 minutes earlier.
Sophomore middle blocker Kyler Presho found the floor for the set-winning kill. For Presho, that was not just any set-winning kill; that was a set-winning kill against a team whose assistant coach is his own father, Mark Presho.
Earlier in the week, Kyler said, “My dad is a competitive guy, and he raised me to be competitive, so I always want to beat him anytime I have the chance to play against him. It’s a match I’m going to prepare for really well.”
The fourth set had an air of urgency for both teams. Irvine needed to win this set for obvious reasons, while Stanford desperately wanted to avoid the tie-breaker fifth set.
The urgency manifested in a very tight opening. The teams stayed neck and neck to 8-8 until Ewert’s kill provided the singular lead change of the set. An ace by junior outside hitter Eric Beatty sent the crowd into a frenzy as the lead grew to 10-8.
Besides his two service aces, Beatty paced all players on the floor with nine total digs. Dagostino and Bischoff each contributed seven. In addition to his offensive impact, Jasper had a large presence on the other side of the net with six digs and a team-leading five blocks.
Irvine tried to threaten Stanford with a 3-0 run, but Ewert killed their momentum with an ace that just caught the top of the net. A Beatty kill then extended the Cardinal lead 19-15.
Never to be counted out, the Anteaters threatened to steal back the lead with an impressive 2-6 run, tying the game at 21 a piece.
The excitement and tension in Maples skyrocketed while Ewert and Jasper created kills as often as the Anteaters blocked them. Presho then terminated a kill to give Stanford its first match point, 24-23.
The Cardinal could not shake Irvine while the scored climbed back to 25-25, mirroring the very first set. Finally, a long rally ended when Jasper and junior middle blocker Stephen Moye roofed the Irvine attack for the match point.
The crowd erupted, the bench stormed the hardwood, and the Stanford men on the court collapsed to their knees. Last night was proof that this team can truly play with anyone.
After the match, an ecstatic Dagostino remarked, “This was really the first performance we had where we could show what we can do as a team. I think this was the best win we have had in a few years as a group. If you look at the stats, everyone contributed across the board.”
The team will now rest, look back at the film, and gear up for round two against UC Irvine on Saturday night at 7 p.m. PST in Maples.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.