M. Volleyball: Two top-5 foes wait in SoCal

Feb. 19, 2010, 12:42 a.m.

The No. 2 Stanford men’s volleyball team faces a tough challenge this weekend, as it travels down to southern California to play its first matches away from home in nearly a month.

After its impressive home wins over then-No. 3 UCLA and defending champion UC-Irvine, the Cardinal (7-3, 6-3 MPSF) looks to continue its success on the road against No. 4 Pepperdine and No. 3 USC. Both matches will be extremely important for the Card in maintaining momentum–and because they are against fellow Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) opponents.

“Beating the historical powerhouse in UCLA and the defending champions in UCI was extremely important for our season,” said junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin, who returned to action against UCLA after battling an injury. “Our wins last weekend were huge, not just because they were against talented teams, but because they were wins. In our league, first place is separated from eighth place by two losses.”

The Card is currently at a high point in its season, having won its last four matches, including a sweep over UCLA last Friday. In that match, sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson led the Cardinal, hitting .400 with 15 kills. Combined with his performance in the Irvine match on Saturday, where he contributed 22 kills, Lawson’s efforts last weekend earned him National Player of the Week honors. McLachlin contributed a total of 15 kills in his first two games back for the Card and senior opposite Evan Romero added 27 more over the two-game stretch. However, more important than the individual successes were the two wins for Stanford in the MPSF, where victories are not always easy to come by.

“One of the biggest differences was our passing and offense,” McLachlin said, comparing the weekend matches with losses earlier in the season. “When we pass the ball, our offense is similar to that of the football team–explosive. We have also been working on our middle attack.”

This weekend, Stanford will be looking to earn two more wins, and solidify its spot near the top of the conference standings–the team is currently in second place. However, if it wants to do so, the Card will have to beat two high-quality squads in Pepperdine and USC.

On Friday, the Cardinal will play the Waves of Pepperdine, who are coming off a strong weekend themselves and are currently in possession of a five-game win streak. Included in that streak are wins over No. 1 Cal State Northridge and then-No. 2 USC. The team is led in kills by freshman outside hitter Maurice Torres, who averages 4.45 a set, while junior setter Kasey Crider leads in assists.

“Both teams [this weekend] are big and physical,” McLachlin said. “Pepperdine is very strong in the middle and on the right side, so we will be focusing on slowing them down.”

USC also fits the big and powerful mold, and is led by junior opposite Murphy Troy, although the team’s talent is widespread. The Trojans boast four starters averaging over two kills per set and have three players with over 100 kills on the season. In addition, the Trojans are coming off a loss to Pepperdine, and will certainly be looking to get back on track against Stanford. The Cardinal will be looking to take control of the match and dictate the pace against both teams as Stanford looks to extend its winning streak to six.

“It all comes down to serving and passing,” McLachlin said. “Whichever team wins the serving and passing battle will win the match.”

Stanford has a chance to prove itself this weekend as it plays its first road matches in some time against two very good teams. The Cardinal will need strong contributions from all of its players to ensure a successful road trip.

The Pepperdine match will take place tonight at 7 p.m. and the Cardinal will face off against USC in Los Angeles at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

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