By Cybele Zhang
Friday’s away game against No. 7 UC Irvine (2-1, 0-0 Big West) will be the biggest challenge yet for No. 9 Stanford men’s volleyball (4-1, 0-0 MPSF). This will be the Cardinal’s first top-ten matchup of the season.
The Cardinal enter the matchup on a two-game win-streak, following an impressive showing at the AVCA Showcase last weekend. Setter Paul Bischoff was named the MVP of the showcase, while senior outside Eric Beatty, junior opposite Jaylen Jasper and senior middle Stephen Moye were on the all-tournament team.
Despite playing well in Fairfax, Virginia, doubts about Stanford’s consistency remain after the Cardinal were unable to close after five sets against unranked St. Francis earlier this month in Loretto, Penn.
The Stanford starting lineup features veteran Bischoff and Jasper, who have already proven to combine consistently for point-earning plays. Only five games in, Jasper is already responsible for 67.5 points on the season and averages 3.73 kills per set.
Bischoff also has targets on the outside in Beatty and freshman Will Rottman, who average 2.94 and 2.56 kills per set, respectively.
Hitting will prove especially crucial in Friday’s match, given UC Irvine’s strong block. The Anteaters flaunt four middles over 6’10”. Their best middle, Scott Stadick, stands a whopping 7′ tall and leads the team with 18 blocks on the season.
That being said, Stanford junior Kyler Presho also puts up a good block and has 23 on the season, averaging 1.44 per set.
Despite the season’s recent start, the Anteaters have already defeated No. 11 Princeton and No. 12 Loyola Chicago in commanding fashion. UC Irvine, however, did fall to No. 5 Lewis in five sets.
The key to the Flyers’ victory, which the Cardinal should look to replicate, was dominance at the service line. Despite being an evenly matched game otherwise, UCI showed trouble in serve receive and allowed 11 aces from Lewis.
Similarly, Stanford needs to exploit this weakness. Jasper, the Cardinal’s leader in aces with four, can really come in clutch here if Stanford attacks Irvine’s sometimes-shaky passing.
Another key for a Cardinal win will be stopping Irvine’s outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller and opposite Alexandre Nsakanda at the net. The pair run UCI’s offense with 43 and 40 kills on the season, respectively, and limiting their output will hinder the Anteaters greatly.
Facing, literally, their biggest challenge yet, Friday’s game will be integral in proving the Cardinal can compete at the highest level. First serve will be at 7:00 p.m. on Friday in Irvine.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.