M. Volleyball: Cardinal falls in close matches

Feb. 1, 2010, 12:45 a.m.

After a strong 3-1 opening start in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), the No. 2 Stanford men’s volleyball team suffered two upset losses at home this weekend to No. 10 UC-Santa Barbara 3-1 and No. 3 Cal State Northridge 3-2.

M. Volleyball: Cardinal falls in close matches
Evan Romero spikes the ball against Drew Staker of Cal State Northridge. No. 2 Stanford lost a tough five-set battle against the No. 3 Matadors on Friday. (CHRIS HOLVE/The Stanford Daily)

Despite reaching its highest ranking since 2002, the Cardinal now finds itself falling in the MPSF rankings — the two losses put Stanford tied for seventh with UCLA as Northridge leads the league in first place. Santa Barbara sits comfortably in a three-way tie for third.

“I think it changes our attitude and focus for the next two matches,” said sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson. “After getting upset by UCSB and Cal State Northridge at home and coming out of the weekend with a 3-3 record, we are very hungry for two wins this week.”

Despite hitting a high .384 on Thursday night, the Card failed to pull through in crucial moments, and instead walked away with a 28-30, 29-31, 30-28, 29-31 loss against the Gauchos. Each set was close, although the Gauchos managed to grind out set victories, despite senior outside hitter Evan Romero’s match-high 26 kills. Lawson nearly matched Romero with 22 kills of his own.

However, UCSB’s Jeff Menzel powered in 23 kills and Cullen Irons added 22 kills for the Gauchos. Santa Barbara’s ability to pull ahead for the final points in each set ultimately cost Stanford the match.

During the first set, Stanford took the early 3-0 lead. After a Stanford service error and hitting error, combined with Gaucho kills, Santa Barbara tied it up 5-5. From then on, the Card trailed. The Gauchos went on a four-point run, putting them up 17-12. Stanford came close at 21-20, but UCSB capitalized on kills by Dylan Davis and Menzel to finish 30-28.

Throughout the second set, the Gauchos controlled the tempo of the game. It was not until a kill by senior outside hitter Jason Palacios that Stanford tied it up 19-19. The teams traded points until Menzel tied the match at 29-29, after which an attack error and a Jake Rosener kill locked up the set for Santa Barbara.

Stanford changed the pace during the third set and immediately pulled ahead. However, errors prevented both teams from jumping out to a big lead until Stanford went on a six-point run, giving the Cardinal a cushion at 18-13. Lawson wrapped it up with a kill for the 30-28 victory.

Midway through the fourth set, the Gauchos caught Stanford making errors as Menzel, Davis and Irons pounded in the kills. Rosener ended the set with a service ace at 31-29, winning the set and match for UCSB.

Friday was a different story for the Cardinal, but had the same ending.

The Card dropped a five-set thriller to Northridge 30-25, 21-30, 25-30, 34-32, 13-15, despite a comeback in the fourth set. Lawson hit 26 kills and senior setter Kawika Shoji dominated with 61 assists.

Confident and relaxed in the first set, the Card’s Lawson and Romero led the offensive while holding off Northridge’s 7-foot-2 Jacek Ratajczak. The Matadors trailed closely all set until two kills from Lawson and one from Garrett Dobbs gave Stanford an edge. Romero ended it with a kill for the 30-25 set win.

The second set was all Ratajczak as he hammered in kills along with Mike Gaudino and Theo Edwards to give Northridge the set, 30-21.

In the third set, a back-and-forth battle that provided several ties never let Stanford see the lead. The Card trailed the entire match and an Edwards kill finished it at 30-25.

Stanford appeared to be heading for a loss in the fourth set, but, aided by attack errors from the Matadors, the Card launched a thrilling comeback from a 24-17 deficit. Romero and Lawson led the way by bombing Northridge with kills. Ratajczak tied it up at 31-31, but freshman Myles Muagututia set Lawson up for the set-winning kill at 34-32.

In the fifth, attacking and service errors thwarted the Card. A four-point Matador run led to a 7-5 deficit. Despite efforts by sophomore middle blocker Gus Ellis, Lawson and Romero, Stanford could not pull ahead. A Kevin McKniff kill for Northridge ended the night for the Card at 15-13.

“Three things that stuck out this weekend were our serving, passing and blocking,” Lawson said. “If we can consistently execute these skills at a high level, our team is going to be difficult to slow down in side out and very dangerous on defense. I think serving is particularly important considering how many serves we missed this weekend at crucial points in both matches.”

The Cardinal comes out of this weekend knowing it has the ability to put up a fight against any team. However, without consistency, it might be a long season.

Stanford looks to improve this week against Pacific on Wednesday and on Friday against UC-Santa Cruz. Both games will take place in Maples Pavilion at 7 p.m.

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