Men’s volleyball tries to keep up the momentum

Feb. 20, 2015, 12:03 a.m.

After their first road victory of the season, the Cardinal (4-9, 3-6 MPSF) will return to Maples Pavilion this Friday night to face the conference-leading Anteaters of UC Irvine (13-3, 8-2). Exactly one week earlier, Stanford fell 3-0 to the Southern California outfit. Stanford is still looking for its first win over a favored opponent this season. To do so on Friday, the Cardinal will have to shut down Irvine’s attacking duo of Tamir Hershko and Kyle Russell.

Madison Hayden
Junior outside Madison Hayden (above) tallied 21 kills on 47 swings. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

Hershko, a sophomore opposite from Israel, hit .429 and collected 16 kills against the Cardinal last time out to continue his fine run of form. For his efforts in wins against Stanford, Pepperdine and CSUN last week, he was named the MPSF Player of the Week, his second such honor this season.

Russell, a junior outside hitter, had a great all-around game in his previous match against Stanford. He collected seven digs, 11 kills and a service ace to stuff the stat sheet.

Stanford is coming off of a promising push of momentum — Saturday’s 25-23, 22-25, 25-13, 25-18 win against MPSF bottom-feeder UC San Diego in La Jolla was the first Cardinal road victory of the season.

Man of the match honors should have gone to junior outside Madison Hayden. He tallied 21 kills on a whopping 47 swings, the most attempts by anyone in a Cardinal uniform this season. Hayden, who hit .319 for the match, was backed up by a nine-kill, .333 hitting performance by classmate and opposite Alex Stephanus. Followers of the team have seen many great individual hitting performances squandered by subpar play from the other hitters this season, something that was turned around last time out. Add in the standard brilliance of junior middle Conrad Kaminski, who hit 12-1-20 for a .550 hitting percentage, and Cardinal volleyball was rolling.

Perhaps this is the long-awaited uptick in pin hitting that Stanford fans have anticipated. Head coach John Kosty has not been afraid to make some intriguing moves to boost the production from the outside hitter position. Junior two-time All-America setter James Shaw was moved to the left side starting with the Pepperdine match two weeks ago. Aided by his 6-foot-7 stature, unusually tall for a setter, he promptly became Stanford’s most dangerous attacking option as Stanford took a set off the fourth-ranked team in the country. He would finish with 18 kills on 33 swings for a .394 hitting percentage, the best performance from a pin hitter since Clay Jones hit .520 against UCLA in January.

Filling in for Shaw at the setter position is the preseason and season-opening starter, freshman Kyle Dagostino. He posted 41 assists against Pepperdine in just his second collegiate start at setter, and followed it up with 40 assists against Irvine-based Concordia College. In the win over UC San Diego, a game in which Shaw did not play, Dagostino facilitated the best Cardinal attack of the season with 47 assists. Depending on Shaw’s status and Kosty’s choice of hitters, Dagostino may find his role elevated from second-choice to first-choice setter. He seems primed to make his fifth straight start on Friday night.

Despite Irvine having the nation’s most efficient attack, the star of the Anteaters is their defensive anchor. Senior libero Michael Brinkley is a two-time first team All-American — only two other Anteaters have reached collegiate volleyball’s highest team twice in a career. He comes in averaging 2.26 digs per set. With the Cardinal only hitting .211 as a team this season, Brinkley will be the man to beat if the Cardinal want to win the first match of the home stand.

UC Irvine coach Dave Kniffin has a 2013 NCAA title to his name, matching the 2010 title owned by Stanford coach John Kosty.

Stanford will be hard-pressed to come up with a victory against the Anteaters, but a fine performance on the road against UCSD, desperation to turn the season around and home-court advantage for the first time in almost a month might be enough to push the Cardinal over the edge.

Contact Kevin Bishop at [email protected].

Kevin Bishop is a volleyball beat writer for The Daily. He runs cross country and track for the Stanford varsity team, and would like to pursue an athletic career as long as possible before turning to the working world. To that end, Kevin is pursuing a double major in computer science and economics, with an eye towards a career in coding or computational financial analysis. The Bay Area native is a lifelong Warriors and 49ers fan, and now fervently supports north London side Spurs in the EPL.

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