By James Hemker
Growth, according to head coach John Kosty, has characterized the men’s volleyball team over the past few weeks. And there was never more growth than after last Thursday’s loss to USC, a team that left Maples with just its third win of the season.
With a two-day turnaround, No. 12 Stanford (6-8, 2-3 MPSF) took the floor Saturday evening against Concordia (6-10, 1-4 MPSF) and punctuated the weekend with a 3-0 sweep of the Eagles. The Cardinal improved in each set of the 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 win, a marked turnaround from Thursday’s loss.
“We have three freshmen on the floor,” Kosty said. “They’re growing and maturing and in this day and age, sometimes we are not patient enough to let the growth happen. Growth happened on Thursday, which allowed us to win tonight.”
After a miserable passing performance against the Trojans, Stanford won the serve-pass battle with more aces and fewer service errors than the Eagles. The hitting efficiencies more accurately tell the story, with Stanford (.311) hitting over .300 and Concordia putting away kills at just a .168 clip.
In just his third game, freshman setter Nathan Lietzke took command of the Cardinal offense. The lone bright spot in the loss to USC, Lietzke further showed off his skill with 35 assists in the sweep. His confidence was on full display with a dump-off at 24-23 in the second set to win the frame. Stanford sided out over 70% through all three sets, a testament to the consistency of the offense.
“Hats off to Lietzke who set an unbelievable match,” said junior middle Kyler Presho. “He kept everyone involved, so I’m going to put that all on him. He’s the one who kept us above 70.”
Lietzke’s favored target was junior opposite Jaylen Jasper, who put away a match-high 15 kills at a .357 clip. Jasper also added an ace, six digs and four blocks to his stat line. Freshman outside Will Rottman broke double digits with 11 kills. He was also key from the service line, recording two of Stanford’s four aces while committing just three service errors.
“Will, [senior outside] Eric [Beatty], and [redshirt-freshman libero] Justin [Lui] did a great job passing tonight,” Kosty said. “They communicated very well. When we pass the ball and let Nathan set how he knows how to set, we can run a really high-efficiency offense.”
The biggest benefit of the clean passing was senior middle Stephen Moye, who became an active hitter as Lietzke sent ball after ball his way. Moye finished the night with six kills on nine errorless swings (.667). Despite not recording an ace, Moye was clutch from the service line for Stanford. In both the second and third sets, Moye served for four straight points, giving Stanford a chance to string together points.
“We went back to the fundamentals,” Beatty said. “We came into practice on Friday knowing we had let the ball drop. It was literally an hour of straight serving, an hour of straight passing.”
Despite holding leads of four or five points, Stanford nearly gave away the first two sets to the Eagles, who were just a single point from forcing deuce in both frames.
Led by opposite Raymond Barsemian, Concordia refused to die quietly. Through two sets, Barsemian paced the court with 12 kills and just three errors. Going into the third set, Stanford made adjustments that the Eagles could not handle. Barsemian hit -.125 and the whole team hit -.037 in the final frame.
Presho grounded the Eagles with seven total blocks, four of them coming in that final set. His final block, a triple with Jasper and Beatty, won the match with an emphatic clap-boom. As a team, the Cardinal out-blocked the opposition 11-4.5.
“We keyed in really well tonight defensively on their hitters and their tendencies,” Presho said.
“The maturity of our team is allowing us to make changes during the match, during play,” Kosty said. “They are understanding what the opponent is trying to do and then they make slight adjustments.”
For a team with three freshmen (Lietzke, Lui, Rottman) occupying significant roles, the term “maturity” is used constantly. It’s for good reason. This is now the second time the Cardinal have responded to a tough loss with a sweep against their next opponent. After a five-set heartbreaker to Pepperdine two weeks ago, Stanford swept UCLA in Maples.
“Completely turning around our level of play tonight as opposed to Thursday is the mark of a really mature, strong team,” Presho said. “It’s a good sign. I think we are going to start seeing a lot better results from this team in the future.”