M. Volleyball: Tough Test

April 9, 2010, 12:47 a.m.

The No. 1 Stanford men’s volleyball team will host its last home matches of the regular season this weekend, facing some of its toughest competition in No. 3 Pepperdine and No. 6 USC.

The Cardinal (16-5, 13-5 MPSF) is seeking to clinch first-round home-court advantage with wins over the Waves (14-7, 12-6) and Trojans (13-9, 10-8). Along with Pepperdine, Stanford is the only team that controls its own destiny for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) tournament’s No. 1 seed.

M. Volleyball: Tough Test
Senior setter Kawika Shoji (above) will have to play a big role for Stanford to defeat Pepperdine and USC this weekend. Shoji will play the last regular-season home matches of his career this weekend. (AURELIA HEITZ/The Stanford Daily)

“Friday’s match is crucial,” said sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson. “With the top five teams in the league separated by no more than a game or two, every win from here on out is going to count big time.

Junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin agreed.

“Not only will [the matches] have a big impact on our seeding for the conference tournament, but we also want to send our seniors out with a couple of big wins,” he said. The team’s Senior Night is this Saturday.

Those seniors include All-American setter Kawika Shoji and Stanford’s career kills record holder, opposite Evan Romero.

“These matches are extremely important,” Shoji said. “Not only are they absolutely critical when it comes to the MPSF standings, but they are also a celebration of the work that the senior class has done the past four years.”

Other Stanford seniors playing their last regular-season match at home on Saturday include outside hitters Ed Howell and Jason Palacios and middle blocker Garrett Werner.

To ensure that the Card gets these much-needed wins, the team has been working hard in practice. The players know that neither of these matches will be easy, having lost to Pepperdine before taking a grueling four-set win from USC when the teams played earlier in the season.

All of the Cardinal players emphasized that excellent defense would be necessary to beat a Pepperdine offense that doesn’t commit a lot of errors. Pepperdine also utilizes a very balanced attack, with four players averaging over two kills per set and two more hovering just under two.

“We have been tightening our block and defense,” Shoji said. “We need to score points with our defense during this crucial weekend.”

“With such a wide range of options on the attack, it’s going to be important that we slow down Pepperdine’s offensive game by blocking, digging and turning points on our serve,” Lawson added.

Against the Trojans, the Cardinal will face a less-balanced attack centered on USC’s two stars, junior outside hitter Murphy Troy and sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli. Both players average around four kills per set, with Troy leading the team at 4.48. The Trojans need one more win in their last four matches to reach the MPSF Tournament, and they will likely be looking to improve their seeding with a win over Stanford.

However, while the opponents in the MPSF are tough, Stanford has grown as a team over the year, seemingly peaking at the perfect time—it has won nine of its last 10.

“Two things that I see in our team are confidence and poise,” Lawson said. “Throughout the season, we seemed to trust more and more in our ability to play consistent, high-level volleyball, but stay calm and relaxed when another team brought its A-game and challenged us to side-out or score a big point in a close game. I think these traits have enabled us to win close matches and outlast our opponents down the stretch.”

This weekend, the Cardinal will look to gain a little breathing room in the conference standings, looking forward to the MPSF and NCAA Tournaments, while also looking back into the past to celebrate the careers of the team’s seniors.

“If we can get two wins at home this weekend, we’ll be that much closer to a No. 1 finish in the MPSF regular season and an NCAA playoff berth,” Lawson said. “These matches are also important because they are the last two regular season games that our seniors will play at home and in that sense they have a special meaning for both our seniors and our team in general.”

The match against Pepperdine starts at 7 p.m. tonight. Senior night is on Saturday against USC at 7 p.m. Both matches will be played in Maples Pavilion.

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