By James Hemker
Head coach John Kosty stressed first-set performance above all else early in the week. His men’s volleyball team followed the dogma, snatched a lead early against UCLA and earned its first win since Jan. 11.
Riding an .857 hitting percentage in the first frame, No. 13 Stanford (5-5, 1-2 MPSF) swept the seventh-ranked Bruins (5-5, 0-2 MPSF) in three sets. Committing just four errors, the offense had its most efficient match (.565 hitting) in over four years. Each Cardinal attacker hit at least .420, and three did not commit an error.
The 25-17, 25-19, 25-17 match served as a catharsis for Stanford, which played as a cohesive unit for the first time since injuries decimated the setting position almost a month ago. Redshirt freshman Justin Lui, the libero-turned-setter, turned just three weeks of work into a record-setting performance for the team.
“It feels so good,” Lui said. “We wanted to really beat them and we did it as a team, which was the most rewarding thing.”
“We have the talent to match up with anyone in the country,” said freshman outside Will Rottman. “We had to battle with the injuries, and it was just a matter of getting over that hump”
Lui and his 34 assists were only half of the equation, as it was up to the attackers to put the balls away. The hitters delivered, with junior opposite Jaylen Jasper (.486 hitting) and senior outside Eric Beatty each terminating a match-high 11 kills. Beatty’s .688 hitting percentage set a new career-high (min. 10 attacks).
The first set was all Jasper, as he finished with half of the team’s kills (six) and attempts (seven). No Cardinal player would commit an error until midway through the second frame. The offense hit smart shots, getting blocked only three times and committing a single unforced error.
“[The hitters] took really calculated swings,” Lui said. “They were able to hit around the block and that’s why we did so well in that first set.”
Along with Beatty, Rottman bounced back from a struggling performance in the loss to Pepperdine on Thursday. The young Cardinal slashed 10/1/15 (.600 hitting) and had four of the team’s six service aces. He was aggressive from the line all night and it paid dividends for Stanford.
At the end of the second set, Rottman sparked a crucial 4-0 run for the Cardinal with a kill at 21-17. He then went back to the line and cooked up consecutive aces to send the Bruins reeling.
Struggling to pass, UCLA was unable to effectively run its offense as the setter was pulled off the net point after point. The Bruins committed more than three times as many errors as Stanford. They hit .242 as a team, their second-worst outing of the season.
“[Associate head coach] Ken [Shibuya] put a great scouting report together,” Kosty said. “And our team executed the scouting report pretty relentlessly.”
The offensive beatdown served as a fitting backdrop for the honoring of Stanford’s 2010 national championship team. That team secured the program’s second national championship with a sweep over Penn State in Maples Pavilion. Brad Lawson ’12, who smashed 24 kills on 29 swings with a single error in that title match, sang the national anthem.
Stanford has little time to rest on its success, as top-ranked Hawaii comes to the Farm next weekend.