By James Hemker
Despite a 12-1 run to force a fifth set in Maples, No. 13 men’s volleyball could not close out the match against eighth-ranked Pepperdine Thursday night. The 25-18, 25-22, 25-22, 25-20, 15-9 loss is the team’s fourth in a row.
The offense was a tale of two pins. Junior opposite Jaylen Jasper turned in a season-high 28 kills on the right side, but the left-pin attackers — senior Eric Beatty and freshman Will Rottman — combined for 18 kills with 14 errors. The disparity was in part due to the general inexperience of the roster.
The Cardinal (4-5, 0-2 MPSF) opened with their fifth different lineup as junior outside Leo Henken got the start at libero. Sophomore libero Justin Lui played his fourth-straight match at setter.
“We have people out of position, so we are going to get some mistakes,” said head coach John Kosty. “We have to be able to handle those and move on, which I thought we did a really nice job of.”
The Cardinal opened the match with a strong first-set performance, hitting .294 and holding Pepperdine (4-2, 1-0 MPSF) in the negatives. The energy dissipated over the next two and a half sets, until a crucial timeout in the fourth set. Down 19-13, Stanford mounted a 12-1 comeback that featured five kills from Jasper. Ultimately, Pepperdine regained the edge at the start of the fifth set, holding the lead to the end of the match.
“We had a nice comeback at the end of set four, but couldn’t close out in set five,” Beatty said. “It was a big mentality game.”
Lui, who was at the line for the last eight serves of the fourth-frame run, showed noticeable improvement from the last two weeks, racking up 52 assists through the five sets. He also had his first career double-double as he paced the court with 15 digs. The Cardinal hit .274 as a team — 30 points above the Waves’ .234 — following Lui’s lead.
Most improved was the setter-middle connection. Senior Stephen Moye and junior Kyler Presho had strong offensive performances, each with seven kills. Moye hit .545 and Presho was just below at .385.
Jasper and Lui were also in-sync, with the two-time All-American attacker hitting at a .400. His 28 kills were just one shy of the career mark he set last year.
“I take credit for none of those kills,” Jasper said. “It was either Justin giving me a nice ball, or somebody with a nice serve giving me an overpass kill. It was always somebody else’s doing.”
Stanford’s offensive successes ebbed and flowed with its ability to pass to Lui. The unfamiliar group of three passers in Henken, Rottman and Beatty had communication issues throughout the match. The Waves put away four aces against the Cardinal back row.
“Communication between those in-between balls is a little shaky still — that’s where we got a couple of those aces,” Beatty said.
Despite being held almost 50 points below their season hitting average, Pepperdine was able to fend off Stanford in key moments. In both the second and third frames, the Cardinal made runs to steal the sets, but the Waves washed those hopes away with tough serving and strong blocking.
Pepperdine out-blocked Stanford 14.5-4.5. The Waves also took advantage of the fact that Lui had to rotate through the front row. At just 5’10”, Lui became an easy target as the Pepperdine attackers hit right over his head. 6’6” freshman setter Nathan Lietzke, who is returning from injury, made appearances at the end of each set in an effort to remove the weakness.
Stanford has only a day of rest before the team will face rival UCLA on Saturday evening. The night will also be a celebration of the Cardinal’s 2010 NCAA championship team. First serve is set for 7 p.m. PT from Maples Pavilion.