Fresh off two disappointing home losses, Stanford men’s volleyball is back on the road this week to take on Pacific, UC-Irvine and UC-San Diego. Stanford is currently in the midst of its longest slump of the season, having dropped its past four games, but will be looking to turn things around in a major fashion this week in order to make a final MPSF playoff push.
The No. 8 Cardinal (12-10, 9-10 MPSF) will first travel down to face Pacific (7-16, 4-15 MPSF). In the teams’ first meeting of the season, the Cardinal was able to prevail 3-2 and will look to do the same this week. The Tigers are fresh off a win against Cal State Northridge, but they had lost 13 of their past 14 games previously.
Pacific is led on offense by senior outside hitter Taylor Hughes, who is fifth in the MPSF in kills per set at 4.00. The Tiger attack lacks much depth beyond Hughes, however, as Pacific sits second to last in the MPSF in hitting percentage, third to last in assists and fourth to last in kills per set. The Tigers also rank last in aces, averaging just 0.59 per set.
While it might be weak offensively, Pacific does boast a strong defensive presence. Pacific sits third in the MPSF in blocks, with two middle blockers, senior Christian Ahlin and sophomore Tommy Carmody, sitting in the top 15 in the conference in blocks per set. At the same time, junior libero Javier Caceres leads the MPSF in digs per set, and the Tigers rank second in the MPSF in digs.
After meeting the Tigers on Tuesday, Stanford will have a short break before facing No. 4 UC-Irvine (18-6, 15-6 MPSF) on Friday. The Anteaters defeated the Cardinal 3-1 in their last meeting but have been struggling somewhat as of late, going just 3-3 in their past six games.
UC-Irvine has a number of strong offensive players, but perhaps its most dangerous is senior outside hitter Kevin Tillie. Tillie sits eighth in the MPSF at 3.84 kills per set and has given Stanford trouble in the past, putting up 18 kills on .531 hitting in the teams’ first meeting.
The Anteaters are anchored on defense by sophomore libero Michael Brinkley, who ranks second in the MPSF in digs per set. Tillie is also capable defensively, ranking ninth in the same category. As such, UC-Irvine holds opponents to the third lowest hitting percentage in the MPSF.
The Anteaters also boast strong net defense, ranking fifth in the MSPF in blocks per game. Junior middle blocker Collin Mehring, who is fifth in the individual category, put up impressive numbers in his last game against Stanford. Mehring, who ranks second in the MSPF in hitting percentage behind only his fellow Anteater junior middle blocker Scott Kevorken, had nine kills on .667 hitting as well as three blocks.
Stanford will close out its road trip Saturday night against UC-San Diego (7-18, 4-16 MPSF). The Tritons are last in the MPSF and were swept in their last meeting with Stanford, but they could still prove to be trouble. They took UC-Irvine to five sets in their last match and were able to pull out a win over USC just two games before.
The Tritons are the weakest offensive team in the MPSF, hitting just .211 on the year, and are second to last with an average of 11.57 kills per set. The Tritons were held to just .181 hitting in their last matchup with Stanford, although junior middle blocker Fred Stahl did post 10 kills on .300 hitting. Stahl ranks 12th in the MPSF in blocks per game and is definitely a force to be reckoned with at the net.
Overall, this is a crucial weekend for the Cardinal. Stanford currently sits eighth in the MPSF. At this point, Stanford seems very unlikely to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so its only hope for a shot at the national championship is to win the MPSF tournament.
The top eight teams at the end of conference play qualify for the MPSF tournament, so Stanford needs to start winning in order to stay in front of Cal State Northridge, which sits just a half-game back.
Contact Anders Mikkelsen at amikk “at” stanford.edu.