M. Volleyball: Final Four

May 6, 2010, 12:45 a.m.

The No. 1 Stanford men’s volleyball team has already made one of the most impressive turnarounds in collegiate volleyball history. The Cardinal has won the MPSF merely three years after finishing tied for last in the conference and is in the four-team NCAA Tournament at Maples Pavilion with the national championship game in its sights.

M. Volleyball: Final Four
Sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson and the No. 1 seed Stanford men’s volleyball team look to continue their postseason success as they take on No. 4 seed Ohio State tonight. The Cardinal is competing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997, when it won the national title. (MASARU OKA/Staff Photographer)

First though, Stanford must contend with a formidable opponent tonight in the Ohio State Buckeyes, champions of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. The Buckeyes finished the season with a 22-7 overall record and are currently on a 12-match winning streak. Ohio State has the No. 4 seed in the tournament, but provides a somewhat unpredictable matchup for the Card. Although the two teams haven’t played this season, Stanford is doing all it can to be ready for the Buckeyes.

“We are excited about playing Ohio State,” said senior setter and All-American Kawika Shoji. “They are an unfamiliar opponent, so we are watching a lot of video in preparation. We will have a good scouting report come Thursday.”

“Ohio State is a great team and we know we will have to prepare as best as we can,” echoed sophomore libero and fellow All-American Erik Shoji. “We plan on watching as much film as we can on them trying to familiarize ourselves with them. This is about executing a game plan and trying to play our game as best as we can.”

However, no matter how prepared the Cardinal is, it will likely find itself in a challenging match with a talented team. Ohio State boasts two Second Team All-Americans, sophomore opposite hitter Shawn Sangrey, who leads the team with 4.75 kills per set, and junior setter Steven Kehoe, who is averaging 13.4 assists per set.

Fortunately, besides being the No. 1 team in the country, Stanford has a few things in its favor. First, the team has history on its side, as it has never lost to Ohio State, accumulating an 8-0 record against the Buckeyes historically. Second, the Cardinal is lucky enough to be able to play in front of its home crowd with the Final Four being played at Maples Pavilion. This is especially beneficial for Stanford, whose often-costumed fans have helped the team go 13-1 at Maples Pavilion this year.

“It is awesome to be playing in the Final Four at home,” Erik Shoji said. “It will be special to be playing in such a great environment and even more special to be able to play in front of the home crowd.”

“We have the best home crowd in the world,” added junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin.

The Cardinal’s final advantage lies in the experience it has gained this season playing in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), the toughest conference in the country. The Cardinal has played — and beaten — several of the top-ranked teams in the nation and finished its excellent season by winning the super-competitive MPSF Tournament.

“We are a mature, battle-tested team,” Kawika Shoji said. “The MPSF Tourney is the most difficult tournament to win in college volleyball, so we are ready for our next challenge. Plus, the tournament is at Stanford.”

With all of the excitement and expectations involved, the team is remaining calm and focused on its goal. Led by four All-Americans — sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson and the Shoji brothers were named to the First Team, while senior opposite Evan Romero was named to the Second Team — and MPSF Coach of the Year John Kosty, Stanford is looking to claim only the second NCAA championship in the program’s history. The Cardinal’s last championship was in 1997 at Ohio State. This is Stanford’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since that season.

“We just need to play disciplined, hard-nosed Stanford volleyball,” McLachlin said. “We want to make them play our style of volleyball.”

Win or lose, the match should be a thriller and provides a great opportunity to see top-quality volleyball.

In the other semifinal match of the tournament, MPSF runner-up Cal State Northridge will play Penn State, winner of the EIVA, earlier in the night at 6 p.m.

First serve in Stanford’s semifinal will take place at 8 p.m. tonight at Maples Pavilion.

Login or create an account