Two nights after getting swept on the road against No. 1 USC, the Stanford men’s volleyball team didn’t let a dangerous Pepperdine team take advantage of its home court in a 25-14, 25-18, 25-19 dismantling of the No. 9 Waves on the road that coach John Kosty said might have been the Cardinal’s best match of the year.
No. 5 Stanford (10-4, 7-4 MPSF) rode a balanced offensive attack to the victory, with four players registering at least six kills. Senior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin had a game-high 10 kills on just 15 attacks for an outstanding .600 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Brad Lawson also had nine kills on 14 attacks, and junior middle blocker Gus Ellis had eight kills on 14 attacks. The trio combined for 27 of Stanford’s 37 kills and hit .512 collectively.
In all, the Cardinal made quick work of a Pepperdine team that was coming off a five-set upset of USC last week—Saturday’s match took just one hour and 12 minutes to complete.
Despite its offensive success, it was defense that enabled the Card to dominate the match. Ellis had six blocks as part of a motivated blocking effort from the team. The Cardinal out-blocked the Waves, 10-4.5, fresh off a game against USC in which the Trojans generally had their way at the net and out-blocked Stanford, 8.5-1.
“The coaching staff went to great lengths to break down Pepperdine’s offensive scheme which allowed [freshman Eric] Mochalski and I to anticipate the setter’s tendencies and put up big blocks,” Ellis said. “The team did such a great job serving our opponent aggressively, that Pepperdine’s setter was forced to slow down the offense, making it much easier to block.”
Controlling the net really paid off, as Pepperdine (5-6, 3-6) hit just .139, the lowest opponent hitting percentage for Stanford thus far in MPSF play. It also helped that Stanford hit .492 as a team, its highest mark on the year.
Early on, it looked like Pepperdine might make a real game of it, holding an early lead in the first set and staying tight with the Cardinal midway through the match. But Stanford put together a string of runs led by the attack of McLachlin and Lawson and the blocking of Ellis to pull away and take the first set going away, 25-14.
Game two was nearly identical to the first game, with Pepperdine hanging tight until about midway through, when attack errors took their toll on the Waves.
Game three was a bit of a different story, as Pepperdine finally fought back and got the crowd into the match. But with the score at 13-10, senior captain Jordan Inafuku really stepped up and helped Stanford seize control from the service line with two service aces. The reserve libero came in as a serving specialist throughout the night and had nine serves without a service error, including the two consecutive aces in set three.
The road win broke a remarkable cold streak against Pepperdine. Stanford had not won in Malibu since 1997, a stretch of 13 consecutive road losses to the Waves.
Halfway into the season, the MPSF race is shaping up to be as tight as ever, with Stanford now sitting in fourth place, two games behind conference-leading USC. There are plenty of opportunities to move up, with 11 conference games remaining before the MPSF Tournament at the end of April.
“The MPSF is once again good from top to bottom, and every weekend means we face two quality opponents,” Kosty said. “The conference will be a fight just to get into the playoffs and once you get there it is all about winning five in a row. Just like last year it will come down to the last weekend.”
The Cardinal also gets to host two of the teams (No. 3 Long Beach State and USC) currently ahead of it in the standings. First, though, Stanford will take on No. 7 UCLA Friday at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.