By James Hemker
The Senior Night energy swept through the No. 8 men’s volleyball team (14-8, 5-4 MPSF) as they overcame No. 4 UCLA (16-6, 6-2 MPSF) in a 23-25, 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 15-10 thriller on Saturday night. Libero Kyle Dagostino, setter Russell Dervay, outside hitter Jordan Ewert and middle blocker Chris Moore were all recognized with their families after the match.
“There were a lot of emotions involved, knowing that this could be my last home game,” Ewert said. “The fact that it got to be against UCLA and a win in five was unreal.”
Stanford ends the year with a 13-2 home record, their best since the 2010 season. The win Saturday night also ended a six-game losing streak against teams ranked in the top-five.
“This is the biggest win of the year for us,” said head coach John Kosty. “Senior Night motivated them to find the passion to play for each other, and it was really special to watch.”
This was, by far, the best performance the Cardinal have had all season. Statistically, they may have had better games, but none of them were against a ranked team, let alone the No. 4 team in the country.
After an uninspired showing on Thursday, the Cardinal found 66 kills on .430 hitting, which is the second best hitting percentage any team in the nation has achieved in a single five-set match. Three different Cardinal attackers hit north of .500.
“We came out and had an attacking mentality,” said sophomore middle blocker Kyler Presho. “Thursday we were a little bit lax, but tonight we were prepared for UCLA. We scouted them, and we came to play.”
Ewert paced the team with a season-high 23 kills, which he earned on a .514 hitting percentage. He also contributed four digs, two blocks and an ace in his final regular season game at Maples. For Ewert, who had been dropped by the UCLA program at the end of high school after first being recruited, the showdown with the Bruins has been more personal than most.
“To be honest, it wasn’t as much Senior Night as it was that UCLA has always been a team where I’ve taken the matchup personally,” Ewert said of his motivations. “I have one of my best friends on the team, Micah [Ma’a], and I love competing against him. I know he’s going to give it his all, and I’m going to give it my all, so it’ll be a good game. In addition, I’ve now played three times against UCLA at home and I’ve never lost, so that was also a lot of my motivation.”
For the first time in five games, sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper hit better than .176. His 18 kills came on .355 hitting. Jasper added six digs and three blocks to his stat sheet. Presho terminated nine more kills with a .538 hitting percentage.
Junior outside hitter Eric Beatty started his first match in nearly two months. He rose to the occasion, posting an attacking statline of 12-2-17 and pacing the court with a .588 hitting percentage. Beatty also handled eight digs and stuffed three balls.
Junior setter Paul Bischoff played a fantastic game, controlling the offense with 52 assists, which was one more than the entire UCLA team recorded. He also chipped in seven digs and two blocks, as well as a couple crucial kills late in the game.
UCLA was held to 53 kills and a .274 hitting percentage thanks to Stanford’s stalwart defense. The Cardinal out dug the Bruins 34-26, and they also controlled the net, recording 10 blocks to UCLA’s 7.5. Dagostino tied Beatty’s eight digs to lead Stanford. He also flexed his setter skills with eight assists, including a backwards, cross-court, two-handed set to Ewert in the fifth frame.
Presho paced the court with seven blocks, tying his career high. Three other members chipped in three blocks each, including junior middle blocker Stephen Moye, who also had two of Stanford’s three aces.
“UCLA runs a really good offense, but we did a really good job in practice,” Presho said. “We scouted them well, and we established our positions. They have certain guys that they want to go to in specific situations, and we executed really well against that.”
The Bruins were led by opposite Brandon Rattray, who paced the match with 24 kills on .486 hitting. Setter Micah Ma’a recorded seven kills, 26 assists, 10 digs and five aces to try and keep UCLA in the match.
All year long, Stanford has often been its own worst enemy. The team clearly has the skills to play with the best teams in the nation. However, they have committed simple mental errors on multiple occasions, which have then spiraled the game out of their control. This is exactly what had happened the last time the two teams faced.
In February, Stanford was just two points from winning the match in the fourth, when they gave away the set and let the Bruins back into the game. From there the team could not recover, and UCLA picked up the fifth set easily. With that backdrop, the two schools entered the match.
After going up two sets to one, the Cardinal, again, were unable to convert the fourth frame into a win, and the match turned to the 15-point fifth set.
Immediately, the Cardinal seized a 3-1 lead off of a Moye ace. Jasper terminated the next point and forced the Bruins to call timeout in an effort to regroup. It worked, but only for a single point before Ewert ripped off two more kills.
“We started in a different rotation from last time, which helped a lot since I was the one to pass Micah’s serve,” Ewert laughed. “Really we kept saying ‘We gotta stay together’. This is a team where as long as we keep grooving and grinding together, everything will fall into place, and luckily it did.”
Beatty then found consecutive kills of his own to put the Cardinal up 9-5. A few points later, Bischoff faked the set for an easy dump off, extending the Cardinal lead to five points at 13-8. Desperate, the Bruins spent their final timeout.
Stanford faltered momentarily, allowing two quick points before Kosty called his own timeout to right the ship. The break was effective, and Jasper claimed his 18th and final kill to set up match point. Alongside Presho, the two sophomores roofed the final UCLA attack to clinch the win.
With this win over the top-ranked MPSF team, the Cardinal now sit in fourth place. They are half a game behind Pepperdine and half a game ahead of USC. This makes Stanford’s road match against the Trojans on Friday critical for their conference standings. If they finish in the top four of the conference, they will host the first match of the playoffs.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.