By Cybele Zhang
A decade ago today, men’s volleyball brought home its first national title since 1997. the program currently has two NCAA championships to its name. In 2010, Stanford won the MPSF regular season title, MPSF Tournament and NCAA Tournament — a trio of accomplishments that had not been done in six years.
But, the 2010 title was even more special for three reasons; it was the first time that the men’s team won a title on home turf, the championship came as a story-book turn around from a miserable 2007 season and the team persisted despite the tragic loss of an instrumental coach.
After ending the 2007 season with an embarrassing 3-25 record, longtime assistant coach named Al Roderigues — who worked without pay — would encourage the team with, “Someday, you’ll go worst to first,” on bus rides to and from games. The phrase stuck and, in fact, came true. Just three years after, the No. 1 Stanford men’s volleyball team swept No. 3 Penn State 30-25, 30-20, 30-18 for the NCAA’s highest honor.
Roderigues had passed away earlier in 2010 from stomach cancer, but his impact did not end with his death on March 19. “AL” was sewn on every player’s uniform for the title match, and his spirit lived on in players and coaches alike.
“Only minutes after reaching the peak of NCAA volleyball, players and coaches were describing how much the title would mean to Roderigues, and the sincerity was evident in all of them,” wrote then-Daily columnist Jacob Jaffe in 2010. “This man did so much for Stanford volleyball, and the fact that the team could achieve so much less than two months after he died speaks volumes about the character of this program.”
The final was held in Maples Pavilion before an impressive 6,635 spectators, who rushed the court as national championship shirts and hats were distributed post game. The atmosphere was arguably the rowdiest ever at a men’s game, which is saying a lot thanks to the ever-present KA cheering section.
Stanford’s victory was thanks in large part to the Shoji brothers: senior setter and 2010 National Player of the Year Kawika and sophomore libero Shoji. The pair were in synch for nearly the entire game, setting up the hitters to run the offense, causing the Nittany Lions to unravel at the close of the second set. (Both Shojis now compete for Team USA and brought home bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.)
The third set began with a kill from outside hitter Brad Larson, and Stanford never looked back. As head coach John Kosty noted, “When a player gets in the zone, you don’t talk to him, you don’t slap his hand, you don’t do anything, just let him be. Brad [was in the zone] tonight.”
“The crowd began to chant, ‘You can’t stop him!’ in reference to Lawson’s stellar play,” wrote then-Daily staffer Caroline Caselli, in the original article recapping the game.
Larson finished with a nearly perfect 24 kills and just one error (an illegal back row attack that appeared to have gone down for the kill). He also put up five digs and a team-leading four aces.
“Early in the first [set], to be honest, I was nervous,” Lawson said. “But as I started to go through, I settled in. Kawika [Shoji] was just delivering the ball to the spot… and it was easy from that point.”
Kawika Shoji had 47 assists, bringing his season total to 1,455. Both he and his brother led the Cardinal defense with 10 digs apiece.
After the game, Kawika Shoki and Brad Larson were named co-Most Outstanding Players of the tournament. Both men and the younger Shoji also made the All-Tournament team.
“It’s been a long road for us,” Kosty said. “It’s an incredible feeling to watch this team and how they’ve grown over the four years. It really shows what hard work and dedication can do for you.”
For those wondering where the title holders are now, Kawika hosted “Aloha Fridays” earlier today to discuss life and sports with fellow Team USA setter Micah Christenson.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.