Playing in front of two large crowds in Maples Pavilion this past weekend, the No. 1 Stanford men’s volleyball team beat two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) opponents. The victories maintained the Card’s top ranking and secured home-court advantage for the first round of the MPSF Tournament.
After suffering its first loss in over a month and a half to Cal State Northridge last Friday, Stanford looked to rebuild and refocus for this weekend’s matches.
“I think the loss last weekend really gave us a sense of urgency for this week,” said sophomore libero Erik Shoji. “We knew we had to win these two matches and that really helped us in our preparation.”
On Friday, the Card (18-5, 15-5 MPSF) faced a familiar foe, No. 3 Pepperdine (15-8, 13-7 MPSF). In February, the last time that the two teams met, Pepperdine handed Stanford one of its five losses. However, this time the Card fared better, taking down the Waves in an exciting five-set victory.
Stanford took charge of the match early, jumping out to a 10-4 lead in the first set after a string of three kills and an ace from senior opposite Evan Romero. The team took an eight-point lead at 16-8 that was maintained to the end; a Romero kill sealed the victory, 30-22.
The second set went back and forth up to 13-13, at which point the Cardinal began to pull away. Dominant hitting from Romero in addition to several kills from sophomore middle blocker Gus Ellis led the Card to a 30-25 second set conclusion.
But the Waves stayed alive, narrowly winning the third set 38-36 after each team traded set point several times. Pepperdine then took the fourth set, 30-26, leaving the match’s conclusion to the deciding 15-point fifth game.
“After game four we had a team huddle to refocus and reenergize ourselves for the fifth set,” Shoji explained. “That huddle really provided us with the energy we needed for game five.”
From the first point, the fifth set was Stanford’s to take. Romero continued to be unstoppable at the net, tallying five kills in the short game. Junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin put down a kill to win the set, and match, 15-6.
Romero had a career-high 37 kills and an impressive .429 hitting percentage. Although he had an uncharacteristically high 11 errors, sophomore outsider hitter Brad Lawson added 15 kills, and Ellis contributed another 11 kills to the team’s total of 86. Senior setter Kawika Shoji had 70 assists and his brother Erik dug 16 balls.
Senior outside hitter J.D. Schleppenbach led Pepperdine with 21 kills for the Waves. Senior middle blocker Rodnei Santos added 13 kills and nine blocks while junior setter Kasey Crider had 72 assists.
“Friday’s match really showed how mature we are as a team,” Kawika Shoji said. “In the past we would have panicked, but this team has learned from its mistakes and is mature enough to play its best during the most difficult situations.”
On Saturday, Stanford took on No. 6 USC. Despite trailing by seven in the second set, the Card easily swept the Trojans, 30-23, 30-24 and 30-15. By winning this match, the Cardinal ensured it will play the first round of the MPSF Tournament at home.
“We are excited to play at home again,” Kawika Shoji said. “We have the best crowd in the country. It’s a fun atmosphere.”
Lawson and Romero led the team in kills with 15 and 13, respectively. Kawika Shoji had a perfect hitting percentage, with four kills on four attempts, in addition to his 36 assists and 13 digs.
For the Trojans, sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli tallied 14 kills and four blocks, and junior opposite Murphy Troy contributed nine kills and six digs.
Heading into the final stretch of the season, Stanford is trying to stay healthy and positive.
“Everyone has their aches and pains but we are working through them,” Erik Shoji said. “As far as morale, we’re pretty good right now. We are happy with where we are right now but we know we have two more regular season matches left that are very, very important, so we are continuing to work hard.”
This weekend, Stanford will play its final two MPSF matches in Southern California. On Friday, the Cardinal will face No. 7 UCLA, and on Saturday, Stanford will take on No. 8 UC-Irvine, with both matches starting at 7 p.m.