By James Hemker
Feeling the loss of star sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper, the No. 6 men’s volleyball team (14-10, 5-6 MPSF) dropped a five-set decision to No. 9 USC (15-8, 6-4) last Friday and followed it with the worst offensive performance of the year against Concordia (14-16, 3-7) on Saturday. Jasper was unable to play in either game due to an injury, giving junior Eli Wopat the start.
Both the Cardinal and the Trojans entered the match riding big time upsets, with Stanford defeating No. 4 UCLA on Senior Night and USC handing No. 1 Long Beach State its first loss of the season in a 3-0 sweep.
The Trojans claimed an early 2-0 set lead, but thanks to the outstanding play of senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert, the Cardinal were able to force a fifth set. Unfortunately, the Trojans jumped to an early two-point lead in that final frame. The gap only grew and the set ended 10-15.
Despite the loss, Ewert set a new season high and paced the court with 24 kills on .346 hitting. Defensively, he helped Stanford out-dig USC 41-38 by digging eight balls. He also added two of Stanford’s seven total aces.
Junior outside hitter Eric Beatty paced the team with three service aces, and he also chipped in nine kills, five digs and two blocks.
At the heart of the court, junior middle blocker Stephen Moye claimed nine kills on 15 swings with just two errors to hit .467. Sophomore middle Kyler Presho continued the efficient hitting with five kills on .500 hitting. Both big men contributed four blocks a piece to pace the team. As a whole, Stanford stuffed only eight balls to USC’s 12.
Junior setter Paul Bischoff turned in 47 assists, four digs and two blocks as he did his best to run the offense and backup the defense. Over the course of the night, the Cardinal were held to .239 hitting while USC (.298 hitting) almost broke .300.
Senior libero Kyle Dagostino was a major factor for preventing the Trojan offense from attacking any better than it did. Dagostino led all players on the floor with 13 digs, two shy of his career best.
Despite adding five digs, Wopat was unable to find his offensive groove, and he exited the match after the end of the second set with just a single kill on negative hitting (-.333). Sophomore JP Reilly filled the gap at opposite, and he proved to be more effective, notching five kills on .300 hitting.
USC was lifted by the efforts of two of its seniors, Gianluca Grasso and Jack Wyett. The two were in perfect sync all night, as represented by their identical stat-lines. Each terminated 18 kills on 35 swings to hit .371. Grasso also had three blocks and five digs while Wyett had six digs.
Against Concordia a day later, the team appeared to have shed the tough loss against USC, as they won the first set 25-20. What followed, however, was the worst collapse the team has had all year. The offense fell apart in the face of the Eagles’ front line, while the defense was unable to put a hand to Concordia’s attacks. Stanford’s .140 hitting was the team’s worst performance of the year, while Concordia’s .464 hitting percentage was the fourth highest given up by the Cardinal this season.
Ewert, who had valiantly led the team the night before, was unable to find any gaps in the opposing defense. He recorded just six kills while committing seven errors to hit negative (-.038) for the first time all year. Beatty, who subbed in and out of the game, struggled as well, finishing just two kills while also hitting negative (-.091).
The only attackers to really benefit from Bischoff’s 29 assists were Wopat and sophomore outside hitter Leo Henken. Wopat paced the team with nine kills on .353 hitting while Henken, who played just two sets, was errorless, 6-0-10.
Bischoff led the Cardinal with seven digs and three blocks, while Dagostino was only able to save four balls. Moye (four kills) and Presho (six kills) also joined Bischoff with three blocks each.
After the first set, Concordia created a fortress that the Cardinal could not breach. Stanford was blocked 16 times over the course of four sets, and they were out dug 18-25. The Eagles won sets two and three easily at 14-25, 14-25. The only other teams to hold Stanford under fifteen points in a set were UCLA and Long Beach.
The Cardinal awoke from their dazed form at the end of the fourth set, but by then it was already too late. After falling in a 19-24 hole, the team rallied to win three straight points, but the Eagles were able to eventually respond with the winning kill to claim the match. The match marked Stanford’s first loss to an unranked opponent in over a year.
The Cardinal have just one more match before the MPSF championships begin. Stanford will have a week before taking on Grand Canyon University in Phoenix on April 6.