Men’s Volleyball: Card splits in So Cal

April 6, 2010, 12:47 a.m.

The No. 1 Stanford men’s volleyball team saw its eight-match winning streak come to an end on Friday, but bounced back on Saturday to remain at the top of the conference and national standings.

On Friday, the Cardinal (16-5, 13-5 MPSF) hoped to avenge an early season loss to No. 5 Cal State Northridge (18-7, 13-6). However, in a series of four close sets (30-26, 21-30, 31-29, 30-27), the Matadors prevailed yet again over the Card.

To open the first set, the two teams went back and forth, trading points until the Matadors took a 5-4 lead and never looked back. A Northridge hitting error and a service ace from sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson brought Stanford within one point of its opponent, at 21-20. However, a series of Cardinal attack errors and Matador kills sealed the first set victory for Northridge, 30-26.

Stanford came back to win the second set, 30-21. A block by sophomore middle blocker Gus Ellis and Lawson, followed by two Lawson kills, gave the Cardinal an early 4-1 lead, and Northridge was never able to catch up. The Cardinal led by as many as nine points during the set, and senior opposite Evan Romero served two aces to finish the game.

Sets three and four each came down to the final points, with both eventually ending in the Matadors’ favor. Northridge jumped out to an early 9-4 lead in the third set, but the Cardinal came back to tie the score at 15-15. The two teams exchanged points and possession of the lead up to 29-29 when the Matadors took over and won the set, 31-29. The fourth set proceeded in a similar fashion – the score was tied 15 times – with Northridge winning the set and match, 30-27.

Against the Card, the Northridge offense was unstoppable, led by senior opposite Theo Edwards with 17 kills. Senior middle blocker Jacek Ratajczak added another 15 kills, while three other Matadors – senior middle blocker Kevin McKniff, senior outside hitter Mike Gaudino and sophomore opposite Tanner Nua – contributed an additional 11 kills each.

For the Card, Lawson and Romero led both teams in total kills, with 24 and 18, respectively. Senior setter Kawika Shoji tallied 53 assists, and his brother, sophomore libero Erik Shoji, had 16 digs.

Despite suffering its first loss since Feb. 19, the Cardinal came back with a vengeance on Saturday to take down No. 9 UC-Santa Barbara (11-14, 8-11) and solidify its first place standing.

The Card swept the Gauchos in three sets (30-26, 30-28, 30-23). The team gained a small lead in the first set, and a series of four serves from junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin extended the Cardinal’s lead to 24-19. A trio of kills from Lawson and various serving and attack errors from the Gauchos solidified the first set win for the Card, 30-26.

The second set proved the toughest set of the evening for the Cardinal, with the score remaining fairly even until the final play. Leading at 29-28, McLachlin forcefully smashed a Kawika Shoji set to narrowly win the set.

Stanford only trailed for three plays near the beginning of the third set before pulling away from the Gauchos to clinch the victory. Consecutive kills from Romero and Lawson helped extend the Cardinal lead to six, and the game closed with a kill from Lawson and a final score of 30-23.

Lawson once again led Stanford’s offense with 14 kills. Romero and McLachlin each put down nine kills, and senior middle blocker Garrett Werner and Ellis contributed seven kills apiece. Defensively, the team had 40 total digs, with 15 from Erik Shoji.

For Santa Barbara, junior outside hitter Jeff Menzel led both teams with 20 kills. Freshman middle blocker Dylan Davis added seven kills with only one error to hit .750 for the night. Junior setter Vince Devany recorded 47 assists.

With the victory over the Gauchos, the Cardinal secured a spot in the eight-team MPSF Tournament, the winner of which receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. If the Cardinal finishes in the top four in the conference during the regular season, they will have home-court advantage for at least the first game of the tournament.

This weekend, the Cardinal will face No. 4 Pepperdine and No. 6 USC in its final regular season conference matches at home. Both matches will be held at Maples Pavilion, with the opening serves at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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