After an impressive two-match sweep of then-No. 2 BYU, the men’s volleyball team is saying goodbye to the continental U.S. and hitting the road for the first time since last April. In a rare westward trip, the men are headed to Honolulu to face No. 13 Hawaii in a two-match series starting tonight.
The bi-annual trip to the islands is Stanford’s favorite trip for more than just the sunshine and nice beaches–seven of the team’s 21 players call Hawaii home, as do assistant coach Chris McLachlin and technical director Daniel Rasay. The players admit they’ll be hard-pressed to ignore the many extracurricular opportunities a trip to Hawaii presents.
“There will be a lot of distractions,” said senior Spencer McLachlin. “We have a lot of family and friends there. But we are going to try our hardest to focus on staying together as a team and focus on volleyball. Even though it is home for a lot of us, it’s really a business trip.”
The No. 2 Cardinal (3-0, 2-0 MPSF) is starting to find its rhythm offensively and at the service line. That development could spell trouble for the Warriors (0-3, 0-0), who actually have fewer native Hawaiians on the roster than Stanford does, with five.
In the first match against BYU, Stanford barely eked out a victory. The Cardinal had 21 service errors with no service aces and hit just .292, needing five sets and a thrilling comeback to stave off three match points and narrowly beat the Cougars. But in the rematch last Saturday, the Cardinal got things rolling much more smoothly, riding junior Brad Lawson’s hot hand and Evan Barry’s 48 assists to a four-set victory. Stanford registered seven service aces and just 12 service errors to run its current winning streak to nine matches.
Lawson was named MPSF player of the week after totaling 39 kills in the two matches, including four straight in the fifth set last Friday. But he waved off the honor as a nice recognition.
“It’s certainly an honor, especially when you look at some of the other players’ stats from this week who weren’t recognized,” he said. “So it is a good honor for me and the team, but I don’t think it means too much. Individual honors are nice, but the ultimate team honor–and our goal–is to win another NCAA national championship in May.”
Hawaii is coming off a disappointing showing in last week’s Outrigger Hotels Invitational, where it lost three straight matches to Ball State, Penn State and UCLA. The three-game losing streak to open the season is the first for Hawaii in 17 years and dropped the Warriors from No. 5 in the AVCA rankings back down to No. 13.
But Hawaii is by no means a pushover. The Warriors have a trio of excellent players in outside hitters Steven Hunt and Joshua Walker and opposite Jonas Umlauft, who combined for 98 kills in the Outrigger tournament. The Warriors own the edge in the all-time series against Stanford, 34-31, although the Cardinal has won the last seven matches and the last 19 consecutive sets, dating back to February 2008.
Head coach John Kosty is wary of what he thinks is a sleeper in the talented MPSF.
“Hawaii is a very offensive team, and they run a good offense with three great pin hitters in Hunt, Joshua Walker and Umlauft,” he said. “They will give us all we can handle. Umlauft just had 28 kills and hit .477 against Penn State, so we have to come out and look to neutralize their outside attack.”
Two freshmen appear to be a major part of the game plan for Stanford. Both Eric Mochalski and Brian Cook were heavily featured in the first three matches of the year–Cook is third on the team with 23 kills and Mochalski is fourth with 15 and a .448 hitting percentage. Mochalski also came up with the winning block in the first match against BYU.
But tonight marks the first road match of their young college careers, and Mochalski said he was humbled by the experience.
“I’m looking to just take everything one point at a time,” he said. “This is going to be an extremely hostile environment, and even though it’s my first time ever in Hawaii, I’m just going to try and avoid distractions and stay focused on each play.”
The team left yesterday morning to acclimate to the two-hour time difference, and the Cardinal will face off against Hawaii in the first match tonight at 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.