No. 9 Stanford men’s volleyball (7-4, 0-1 MPSF) dropped a five-set decision in their conference opener against No. 4 UCLA (9-2, 1-0) last night, extending the Cardinal slide to three losses in a row. The ninth-ranked Cardinal were just two points off of match point before the Bruins seized sets four and five to take the win.
Despite the loss, the team showed marked improvement after the beating in Hawaii last weekend. The defense performed much better, posting a season-best 17 team blocks. Five players stuffed five or more shots. Sophomore middle blocker Kyler Presho and junior setter Paul Bischoff led the team with seven each, season-highs for both. Bischoff also paced the floor with 13 digs on the night.
The offense waxed and waned throughout the night, and the Bruins defense tallied 13 blocks to keep the Cardinal hitting only .254. Bischoff created 36 assists, and senior libero Kyle Dagostino added 10 of his own.
Sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper had a stellar performance, racking up 20 kills while hitting a solid .395. Last night was the second time this season Jasper was able to break the 20 kill mark.
Opposite Jasper, senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert was unable to find his attacking groove as he landed just 14 kills on over 40 swings. Ewert was able to contribute on the other side of the net, however, with six digs and five blocks.
The first set laid out what was to come with a heavy defensive battle forcing the score up to 10-9. Consecutive blocks and a string of points from Jasper, including Stanford’s sole ace on the night, allowed the Cardinal to claim an 18-15 lead.
A major stuff from sophomore outside hitter Leo Henken, who continues to fill in for the injured Eric Beatty, extended the lead 21-16. Jasper then terminated set point to claim set one, 25-21.
Through the first frame, Stanford recorded 8.5 blocks against the Bruins, which was almost double the total blocks they collected across two matches with Hawaii.
The second stanza opened similarly to the first, as UCLA claimed the 9-10 lead. After that point, the Cardinal were quickly overwhelmed and the Bruins outscored them 15-5, to tie the sets 1-1.
The UCLA offense came alive on the back of middle blocker Daenan Gyimah. Gyimah finished the night pacing the court with 25 kills on .553 hitting. Gyimah has established himself as one of the best attackers in the nation, and his .550 hitting average leads the country.
Stanford regrouped after the second set thrashing and returned with fire of their own. Ewert claimed the first three kills of the set for Stanford, and Jasper added three more to make the score 10-7.
Jasper and Ewert traded kills while UCLA committed costly service errors. The set quickly spiraled away from the Bruins, and Presho cleaned up set point to end the third set 25-15.
Stanford entered set four hungry for a victory, while UCLA played for its life. Back-to-back blocks from Presho and junior middle blocker Stephen Moye gave the Cardinal a little room at 11-9. Jasper found the opening in the Bruins defense for two more kills, and the team pulled away to a 20-16 lead.
UCLA then called a critical timeout, and they returned to the court with a renewed purpose. Gyimah found his rhythm again, and UCLA suddenly had set point after a 3-8 run.
Presho terminated a kill to bring the game to deuce, but the Cardinal failed to convert. The momentum in Pauley Pavillion shifted tangibly, and UCLA claimed set four, 26-24.
For the first time this season, Stanford entered a fifth set. The fifth set works differently from the first four in that the game goes to 15 instead of 25. As a result, an early advantage puts much more pressure on the opponent.
UCLA was the school to grab that advantage. Stanford called timeout down 1-3, but it was not enough to staunch the bleeding. The Bruins soon extended their advantage to 5-9. From there, the set, and match, ended without much excitement for the Cardinal, 10-15.
Although it was a gut wrenching loss, the match proved that this team is able to compete with the best in the country. The match also shows the improvement that the team can make in just a single week. With some more experience, this team will look dangerous as the season progresses.
Stanford will have another shot at a ranked conference win tonight. No. 5 Pepperdine (7-2, 1-0 MPSF) will be the finale of this Cardinal road trip. First serve is set for 6 p.m. PST.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.