It’s not often you get a chance to knock off number one. It’s even more rare to get a chance to knock off number one twice in the same weekend. But that was no problem for the Stanford men’s volleyball team.
The No. 7 Cardinal (7-2, 4-1 MPSF) rode a wave of brilliant performances from several different players over the weekend to knock off top-ranked BYU (6-3, 4-2) in consecutive nights, 25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 25-18 and 35-33, 25-23, 25-22, resulting in Stanford’s first-ever road sweep of BYU.
“We played well, and it was fun in front of 4,500 people,” head coach John Kosty replied when asked to sum up the weekend.
On Friday, a pair of career-best nights from sophomores Steven Irvin and Brian Cook propelled the Cardinal to victory. The emergence of Stanford’s supremely talented sophomores has been a theme this season, and against the Cougars, it was no different. Irvin finished with a double-double of 14 kills and 12 digs, hitting at an impressive .476 clip, while Cook went for a career-high 20 kills at a .390 hitting percentage, adding seven digs and two solo blocks.
“The sophomores have to play well,” Kosty said. “I thought Steven Irvin had an incredible Friday match. He played some of the best volleyball he has played as a Stanford Cardinal.”
Senior setter Evan Barry also set the Cardinal up for success in his return from injury, as he finished with 54 assists to go along with seven digs and three kills. Stanford hit .358 as a team, a reflection of Barry’s outstanding performance.
“To be honest, I didn’t know about the career high,” Cook said. “The matches flowed very easily for us because Evan Barry ran such a balanced offense. Our hitters all had confidence because we knew the opposing blockers couldn’t focus in on any one of us.”
Not to be forgotten in the excitement of the career-best nights were the always-consistent seniors Brad Lawson and Erik Shoji. Lawson finished with a solid 15 kills, five digs and an ace while Shoji had 10 digs.
Saturday proved to be just as exciting for this improving Stanford squad, which outlasted the Cougars in a marathon first set before holding them off in the final two. The Cardinal once more featured a balanced attack that resulted in four players finishing with double-digit kills: Lawson (14), Irvin (12), sophomore Eric Mochalski (11) and Cook (10). Stanford was once more extremely efficient on the attack, hitting .337 as a team behind 47 assists from Barry.
Despite missing sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander — the Cougars’ leading hitter this season with nearly five kills per set — BYU did not go down without a fight. The first set featured an unusually high point total (68) and saw the two teams fight off a combined 10 set points, including seven by BYU. Stanford was finally able to finish off the Cougars thanks to a combined block by Lawson and senior Gus Ellis. The momentum of winning the first set carried the Cardinal through the second and third sets.
“Our bench had so much energy, it was amazing,” Mochalski said. “You could hear them over 4,000-plus fans. Unreal.”
Was playing the No. 1 team in the country extra motivation for Stanford?
“Of course,” Mochalski said. “Playing the No. 1 team is one thing. Playing them on their home court in front of that many people is another. It is so easy to get motivated for a match like that.”
Kosty was slightly more analytical in his assessment.
“We play in such a tough league, and we understand that No. 1 could be there for anywhere between a week and the whole season,” he said. “BYU is a very good team, and we knew we had to play at a really high level to beat them, especially when they are at home.”
While the results of these two matches are obviously big for the Cardinal, Kosty is hoping that the turnaround actually came last weekend in the squad’s loss to Penn State.
“The Penn State loss may have kicked us into gear, allowing us to win twice at BYU, especially because not many people are going to be able to do that this year,” Kosty said. “These two wins are going to be huge for us down the stretch.”
The Cardinal continues its grueling 10-game road stretch this weekend in Southern California against Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge.