By James Hemker
The No. 8 men’s volleyball team (11-5, 1-1 MPSF) successfully claimed its third consecutive sweep, defeating UC San Diego on Saturday night (6-10, 0-3 Big West). The team continued its high level of play, and the men showed resilience when UCSD made runs late into the match.
“I think tonight was a great overall performance by our team,” senior libero Kyle Dagostino said. “We were pretty relentless with how we played, and we put a lot of pressure on UCSD to make plays. We’re proud that we were able to get three sweeps in a row.”
In the midst of the conference season, this non-conference match presented the coaching staff with opportunities to experiment with the line up. Junior opposite Eli Wopat got the start while sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper moved to outside hitter.
Senior setter Russell Dervay and junior opposite Mason Tufuga were cycled onto the floor as serving specialists throughout the match. The two performed as needed, with Dervay scoring an ace and Tufuga cooking up two more, including the one to win match point.
“Tonight gave us a chance to look at guys who haven’t had an opportunity to contribute this season but who have done a really nice job in practice,” head coach John Kosty said. “I think tonight is one of those wins that really helps the whole team.”
The Cardinal had their third-best offensive night on the season, downing 39 kills on .478 hitting. Senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert was Stanford’s primary offensive contributor. Ewert terminated 14 kills while hitting .500 for his best attacking performance since Ohio State in early January. He also contributed four digs and two blocks while receiving 18 serves without an error.
“Sometimes you hit a couple balls and get lucky and then you’re hot from the beginning,” Ewert said. “That’s what happened to me today. Luckily they had a couple smaller blockers on the right side, and I knew I could abuse that. Coming in, I was thinking I would keep hitting line and see what happens, and it worked.”
Despite being in a different position, Jasper performed well on a relatively lighter load, picking up eight kills and a single error on 16 swings. Wopat finished a season-high six kills on .385 hitting. The two middles also got in on the action. Junior Stephen Moye and sophomore Kyler Presho both turned in five kills on .833 and .500 hitting, respectively.
Junior setter Paul Bischoff set 31 assists over the course of the three sets, and he also contributed two blocks and five digs. The Cardinal out-dug the Tritons 27-16 thanks to the efforts of Dagostino, who paced the floor with eight digs.
Bischoff’s two blocks helped Stanford roof UCSD five times during the night. Presho loomed largest with three blocks, and Moye contributed two more, including a solo block.
The Cardinal came out hot in the first set, with Presho drawing first blood. Bischoff and Ewert felt the connection and they racked up four kills to push the lead 11-7. Jasper sandwiched a Presho kill with kills of his own, and then Tufuga followed with his first ace, 19-12. Ewert and Wopat closed out the set, 25-18.
The second frame started close as UCSD showed a new level of fight. The Cardinal began to slip and the Tritons claimed a three-point lead, 9-12. Suddenly, there was a change in the air, as Ewert rattled off four consecutive points between blocks and kills, and Stanford reclaimed the lead 14-13.
This singular lead change was all the Cardinal needed to reclaim the set, and Dervay’s ace at 20-15 sent the bench into a frenzy. Jasper terminated a kill the play after and then UCSD errors concluded the second frame, 25-17.
The Cardinal held onto that lead through the final set, which had no lead changes. The opening point featured a lucky bounce off of Dagostino’s chest that ended in Stanford’s favor. The Tritons managed to sideout on the next play, leading to the final tie score of the night.
The offense continued firing and the score raced up to 14-10. Moye then found a big kill after a diving pass from Dagostino at 16-12. Sensing their impending doom, UCSD engaged in one last effort to save the match, forcing the Cardinal to call timeout at 18-17.
The timeout allowed the team to recollect themselves and they fashioned a 6-0 run before Tufuga served an ace to win the match.
“We didn’t play outside ourselves,” Kosty said afterwards. “UCSD did a nice job making runs at us, but I liked our composure, especially at the end of the third set.”
This undefeated four game homestand was critical for the mental stability of the team after four tough losses on the road. Three unranked opponents in a row have been chewed up and spit out, and the team will now grapple with No. 9 BYU in a home-and-home next week.
“We are ready to take on BYU next week, and it will be nice to have one away and one home,” Ewert said. “It’s going to be a big weekend, but I know we are ready for the challenge.”
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.