By James Hemker
Everything in volleyball boils down to the pass. Passing the serve to the setter allows the team to perfectly run its full offense, while poor passing can lose the point before it’s barely begun.
Men’s volleyball (5-8, 1-3 MPSF) failed to pass on Thursday night, and USC (3-11, 1-4 MPSF) walked away from Maples Pavilion with just its third win of the year. After a 4-1 start to the season, the Cardinal continue to slide, having lost their last six of seven.
“They were the better serving and passing team tonight,” said head coach John Kosty. “That’s the bottom line.”
Depending on the statistic, the 21-25, 25-18, 23-25, 21-25 loss appeared as an even tug-of-war, with the two teams hitting within .002 of each other. The difference came at the service line, where eight Trojan aces represented USC’s hot serving and Stanford’s inability to pass. While the hitting efficiencies were identical, the Trojans’ serving garnered them a 16-kill, 26-attack advantage over the Cardinal by the end of the game.
When Stanford could pass to freshman setter Nathan Lietzke, it couldn’t be stopped. The team’s .391 hitting percentage was its second-best of conference play. Lietzke, who earned the second start of his career Thursday, showed his confidence and skill, racking up 40 assists. The 6’6” Cardinal dumped twice and had multiple running one-handed sets against the net.
“Getting out on the court with Nathan makes me really excited,” said junior opposite Jaylen Jasper. “I love that he’s a freshman and has all this confidence.”
“For a guy who hasn’t jumped in a long time, he did a lot of really nice things,” Kosty said. “He ran the offense we wanted him to run, which was really nice to see.”
After just a week since his first start, Lietzke had a much-improved connection with his attackers. Jasper paced the Cardinal with 20 kills on .429 hitting, marking the third time this year that the All-American reached the 20-kill plateau. Freshman outside Will Rottman added 11 more kills at a .400 clip.
“We knew what their block was going to do, and we had a gameplan around that,” Lietzke said. “We did a good job of playing into that gameplan and executing it well.”
Though Stanford’s offense hummed, the Trojans marched on, hitting at a season-best .389 clip. Three Trojans reached double digits, led by opposite Billy Fauntleroy’s 23 kills. Out of the middle, Sam Lewis had another eight kills on 11 error-free swings. Nine Stanford blocks were nothing more than bumps in the road to victory for the Men of Troy.
Tallying just two aces, the Cardinal servers were unable to force USC off the net, allowing the Trojans to fool Stanford’s front line with a variety of attacks. In losses, the Cardinal are averaging just .57 aces per set. Overall, Stanford’s .88 aces per set ranks dead last in the country.
The next opportunity to break the losing streak will come on Saturday against Concordia. First serve from Maples will be at 6 p.m. PT.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.