By James Hemker
No. 9 men’s volleyball (11-6, 3-3 MPSF) was unable to convert three match points against No. 9 BYU (8-4, 4-2 MPSF) in a soul-crushing five-set loss. True to the rankings, the match was about as even as possible, with the sets falling 25-21, 17-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-17.
Unlike most of the season, Stanford’s attack was led by their two middles, junior Stephen Moye and sophomore Kyler Presho. Presho had the game of his career, pacing the Cardinal with 14 kills, which was two more than his previous best. Presho’s .650 hitting percentage was bested only by Moye, who found nine kills, another career high, on 13 swing for .692 hitting.
The middle’s successes came through the hard work of junior setter Paul Bischoff who set 50 assists on the night. Last night was the fourth time this year that Bischoff has hit the half-century mark.
Junior opposite Eli Wopat got his second consecutive start at middle, which shifted sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper over to the left pin again. Wopat had the definition of a career day, setting new bests in kills (11), aces (2), digs (6) and total blocks (2).
The BYU defense keyed heavily usual suspects of the Stanford offense, Jasper and senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert. Both managed just 13 kills, with Jasper hitting .176 and Ewert hitting .167. As a team, the Cardinal hit for .310, which marks the fourth consecutive match the team has hit north of .300.
Stanford’s defense played tough, but BYU’s .365 hitting was the highest since the loss to Pepperdine almost three weeks ago. The team out dug the Cougars 35-25 on the backs of Ewert (11 digs) and senior libero Kyle Dagostino (8 digs). With those digs, Ewert recorded his fourth double-double of the season.
Shadows were cast over the court all night as each school recorded nine team blocks. The Cardinal were paced by Moye who contributed five blocks. He was backed up by Presho (4 blocks), Jasper (4 blocks) and Wopat (3 blocks).
Stanford was unable to slow down BYU’s outside hitter Davide Gardini, who crushed 22 kills on .515 hitting.
The most critical moments of the match came in the fifth set. Looking to score just 15 points to win, Stanford seized an early 4-2 lead, which they maintained to 10-8. A huge ace from junior opposite Mason Tufuga extended the lead to 11-8.
BYU called a timeout, which allowed them to regain their footing and mount an 0-3 run to tie the game. Moye terminated his final kill of the night before following it up with another ace to put the Cardinal within two points of victory. BYU then spent their final timeout.
Two points later, Ewert’s hit found the floor and gave Stanford its first match point. BYU remained unfazed, securing a side-out on match point one and a block on match point two to force the set to deuce.
Presho recorded his final kill of the match to give the advantage and match point three to the Cardinal. BYU responded with a kill of their own before Gardini gave the Cougars the first lead of the set at 15-16.
After the final Stanford timeout, the team took the court and looked to the best player, Jasper. Off the set, Jasper’s swing hit went long, and BYU won the match since the ball wasn’t touched on the block. Except it was touched.
A replay from a specific angle showed that the ball looked like “it almost broke the blocker’s hand in half” according to one announcer. The closest match of the season, and it ended on a blown call.
While it hurts for the game to end that way, the true heartbreak came from Stanford’s three blown match points. The team will have to make sure it is in the right mentality for what will surely be another grinder on Saturday in Maples.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.