By James Hemker
After a draining 2-3 loss to No. 9 BYU on Thursday, No. 8 men’s volleyball (12-6, 4-3 MPSF) ended their three-year losing streak against the Cougars (8-5, 4-3) with an emphatic 3-1 win. Stanford is now tied with BYU for third place in the MPSF conference standings.
“It always feels good to get back on the winning track,” said head coach John Kosty. “Our guys used that motivation yesterday and today to really get amped up and stay focused. I was really proud of how our guys came back. BYU is a good, solid team. They pushed us to our best, and we really came through.”
The Cardinal were led by senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert, who had his best offensive performance of the year. Ewert crushed a season-high 22 kills on hitting .405. He also contributed nine digs in the 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-21 win.
“I don’t know if there was anything special about tonight,” Ewert said. “The past four or five games we just have been focusing on what we were doing. After Thursday night, we were pissed off and angry. We were ready to get out on the court and have all the emotion and take it to them.”
For the third consecutive game, junior opposite Eli Wopat got the start, while sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper played outside hitter. Coming off of a career day in Provo on Thursday, Wopat continued his successes against BYU by reaching 11 kills on .308 hitting. Wopat also contributed an ace and seven digs, a new career best. Jasper added 10 more kills and five digs.
“Eli is starting to come into his own,” Kosty said. “He’s figuring out which balls to hit, he is playing great defense. I am really proud of what Eli is doing for us. He’s waited and worked really hard to get to this point. He’s truly taken advantage of his opportunities.”
Junior setter Paul Bischoff allowed Ewert, Wopat and Jasper to have their successes through 45 assists. Bischoff himself got in on the action, recording five kills on six swings. He contributed on the defensive front as well, pacing the floor with 12 digs for his fourth double-double of the season. As a team, the Cardinal out dug BYU 48-26.
BYU had the advantage at the net, scoring 11 team blocks to Stanford’s eight. Junior middle blocker Stephen Moye led the team again with five blocks. Sophomore middle blocker Kyler Presho contributed three more stuffs. Both middles ended the night with seven kills and four digs.
BYU’s largest asset on the night was not on the floor, but in the stands. The Cougar crowd rivaled the Cardinal supporters. Throughout the night, Maples felt uncharacteristically foreign as “BYU! BYU!” swept through the arena.
“It’s frustrating that wherever BYU goes they have a crowd,” Ewert said. “It was also very fun tonight since we were at home, and we had our own crowd. Still, their crowd was pretty much the same size as ours, which was pretty crazy. It was exciting; we were ready for them, and we came out firing.”
The match began with a quick 1-3 BYU lead, but Stanford settled down and stole the lead off of Jasper’s first kill at 9-8. A few points later, Moye served up an ace to extend the Cardinal lead to four. Through the efforts of Ewert and Wopat, the lead held 20-18. BYU was unable to complete the comeback, and Stanford took set one.
The Cardinal came into the second frame playing aggressive. The team’s first six points were all the result of kills, three of which came from Ewert. At 9-6, BYU switched their libero, and the change allowed the Cougars to tie it up at 13 a piece. Bischoff then took matters into his own hands and terminated back-to-back kills.
With the BYU crowd silenced, Stanford was able to close out the set without much issue. Three different hitters recorded kills for the Cardinal before Ewert capped the set with another kill of his own.
With the possibility of a three-set sweep becoming more realistic, the team began to lose themselves in their emotion. BYU kept the game close as the teams reached 15-15. Then, the Cougars’ starting setter awkwardly landed on his teammate’s foot and was carried off the court.
Despite the circumstances, Stanford suddenly found itself in a three-point hole. A big block from Presho and Jasper brought the lead down to just a single point, but BYU closed out the stanza and forced set four.
“At the end of the third set, they went on a run,” Ewert said. “We knew we were the better team, so if we kept focusing on ourselves, then we knew a win would come. It didn’t matter if it came in three sets or four sets, we knew it was coming eventually. We just had to stick to our game plan and trust our skills.”
Entering the fourth with just a single recorded kill in the third frame, Ewert found his connection with Bischoff and rattled off 10 kills over the course of the final set. BYU gained a slight early advantage at 9-10, but Ewert terminated three consecutive kills to lift Stanford.
“I started turning to Jordan during the fourth set,” Bischoff said. “I could see the look in his eyes; he wanted to end it. He wanted it so badly, so I told him myself ‘I’m gonna give you this ball and you’re gonna end it for us.’”
Coming off a BYU timeout at 17-14, Moye put up a huge solo block, sending the Cardinal bench and fans into a frenzy. The score rose to 21-19 before Ewert put away his final two kills of the night. The game ended on the arm of Jasper, 25-20.
This was an important win for the Cardinal, who will be heading into the belly of the beast next week. Top-ranked, defending national champion Long Beach State will host Stanford on Friday.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.