Fresh off two huge five-set victories over No. 5 Pepperdine and No. 13 USC, the Stanford men’s volleyball team was back on the road this weekend, taking on No. 14 UC Santa Barbara and No. 6 UCLA, two teams that it had defeated in its first meetings earlier in the season. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, the time around wasn’t as successful, as No. 4 Stanford was swept in both games.
Stanford (12-8, 9-8 MPSF) was faced with a major problem from the start of the match against Santa Barbara, as regular setter James Shaw was out with injury, causing the entire offense to need to make adjustments.
UCSB (9-12, 7-10) took advantage of this at the start and cruised out to an early lead. The Cardinal, was able to crawl back into the game, but then the Gauchos took over again, uncorking a 9-3 run that turned a one-point advantage into a 25-18 victory.
Stanford started the second set on a roll, speeding to a quick 7-3 lead, but UCSB was again able to pull ahead with a massive run. The Gauchos took their first lead of the set at 16-15 and didn’t look back, taking the second 25-19.
Thus, Stanford needed to win set number three to avoid being swept for just the third time this season. It was close throughout, neither team able to gain much of an advantage over the other, but with the score locked at 16, the Gauchos took over in a manner similar to the first set, riding a 9-3 run to win 25-19.
Stanford had its second worst hitting performance of the season, with just .165. No Cardinal player hit above .250 and while junior outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin combined for 26 kills, their teammates chipped in just nine combined.
Two days later, the Cardinal was in Los Angeles to face UCLA (13-9, 9-7). The match was tight at the start, but an early 4-0 run by the Bruins put Stanford in a hole from which it would not be able to escape. The Cardinal would eventually drop the first set 25-21.
The second set was all UCLA at the start, as the Bruins jumped ahead to a quick 8-2 lead. UCLA maintained this large lead for much of the set and had a set point opportunity at 24-19. Stanford rallied, however, winning four-straight points to close within one. The Bruins, however, were able to convert on that point and take the set 25-23.
Thus, Stanford had to win the third to avoid being swept for the second-straight game. UCLA was able to edge ahead, earning a match point opportunity at 24-22, but Stanford was able to convert twice, tying the match at 24.
The crucial set continued to be back-and-forth, with both teams getting opportunities to win and neither able to convert. Stanford’s last opportunity was at 27-26, but UCLA had three straight kills to finish off the Cardinal.
Stanford hit better in this match, at .358, but was unable to limit the Bruins offensively as UCLA hit .470. At the same time, it didn’t take advantage of the home team’s poor service play; the Bruins had 24 service errors in contrast to just 14 for Stanford.
Irvin had a tremendous game, with 18 kills on .593 hitting, as well as five digs, while Cook chipped in 11 kills, hitting .304. Shaw also performed well in his return from injury, with 23 assists and three digs.
The losses put Stanford in a tough position, as it fell to seventh in the MPSF. The Cardinal will more than likely need to win the MPSF tournament to gain a berth in the NCAA Tournament and therefore every win is important. A top-four seed would ensure Stanford home-court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. Stanford is 9-1 at home and just 3-7 on the road, so that would definitely be an advantage for the Cardinal.
Stanford will be on break for the next two weeks for finals, but will return with matches against No. 7 Cal State Northridge and No. 3 Long Beach State on Mar. 29 and 30, respectively.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at amikk ‘at’ stanford.edu.