By James Hemker
In a five-set thriller, No. 9 Stanford men’s volleyball (8-5, 1-2 MPSF) put down upstart No. 14 USC (7-5, 1-1). The Cardinal earned their first conference victory after falling to UCLA and Pepperdine last week.
“This was a big win for us, especially after the five-set loss to UCLA,” senior libero Kyle Dagostino said. “We needed to prove to ourselves we could win long matches, and it was not easy.”
Stanford claimed the victory on the arm of sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper, who finished the game with a career-high 29 kills on .305 hitting. Those 29 kills are the most scored in one game this season by any player in the nation.
Jasper said of his career night, “At the beginning the connection wasn’t there for me, but as the match went on we started to streak a few points and push tempo. We caught the middles on USC not closing, and I could hit sharp angles or I could turn it down the line.”
Junior setter Paul Bischoff made the kills happen with his 57 assists, one shy of his season best. Sophomore middle blocker Kyler Presho benefited from those sets, hitting .562 and racking up 11 kills to tie his season high. Senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert terminated 10 kills and dug 10 balls to finish the night with his third double double of the year.
Dagostino appeared everywhere on the court at once, pacing the floor with 14 digs. Bischoff contributed 12 digs, and Jasper eight of his own while Stanford out-dug USC 55-41.
“Our offensive performance would not have been possible without our defense and our passing,” said Jasper. “I was shocked at some of the balls we were getting. We were playing amazing defense and our serve-receive was perfect.”
The big men also showed up tonight, as the team recorded 10 team blocks. Junior middle blocker Stephen Moye stuffed the ball a season-best seven times. Presho, Jasper and sophomore outside hitter Leo Henken contributed three roofs apiece.
The first set belied the true nature of the match, as Stanford opened up to an early 10-6 lead. The attack was led by Henken, Presho and Moye, which caught USC off-guard. Henken strung together a couple kills to extend the Cardinal lead 17-11. Stanford capitalized on the momentum and quickly ended set one 25-15.
The second frame started much the same way as Stanford found itself with a 10-8 lead after another Henken kill. The Trojans then dug themselves in and forced an 0-4 run to reclaim the lead. Stanford was unable to find their footing as the score escalated to 16-20.
A critical Cardinal timeout gave the team time to rethink their plan, and the team forced the game to deuce, 24-24. Despite the effort, USC found a couple gaps in the blocks to win the second frame 26-28.
USC came out hard in the third set, but Stanford’s defense kept the Trojan attack in check. The score stayed tied to 10 until USC managed another run, giving them the 14-17 lead.
Stanford clawed its way back into the set and forced deuce for the second straight stanza. Jasper then took over the game and terminated back-to-back kills to put Stanford up two sets to one.
“Jaylen played really well tonight,” head coach John Kosty said. “He’s been doing the things we’ve been asking him to do in practice. With his athleticism come a lot of expectations, and he is catching up with those expectations. He took some great swings tonight and I was really happy with how he played.”
Despite a strong Cardinal start in the fourth set, the Trojans claimed the lead with a three-point run, 12-15. The offense then fell into a one-dimensional rhythm, and Jasper was not enough to close out the match. The Trojans avoided deuce and forced set five, 23-25.
Kosty implored the team for more energy, and the message was received as Jasper and Moye traded kills to give the Cardinal a very fast 7-3 lead. Offensive weapons Jasper and Ewert finished the night hammering kills, and preventing the Trojan upset 15-12.
On the night, Kosty concluded, “I thought we showed a lot of grit and determination. USC makes you work for every point. The team didn’t get down on themselves as USC pushed, and at the end it was good to see that they showed the confidence and desire to truly compete once they came back on us.”
After 11 straight ranked matches, the Cardinal will host Concordia University on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Burnham Pavilion.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.