Despite being down two sets to No. 12 UC Santa Barbara (6-7, 3-7 MPSF), No. 8 Stanford men’s volleyball (8-4, 5-2) came back to earn its second consecutive five-set match win, 23-25, 41-43, 26-24, 25-15, 15-10 in Maples Pavilion.
The comeback began shortly after a second-set stumble, in which Stanford failed to convert 12 set-point opportunities. The marathon second set was Stanford’s longest set since 2003 — including 25 tie scores and 11 lead changes. After eventually dropping the set to UCSB 41-43, the Cardinal finished the match with increased intensity throughout the next three sets, diving for every ball and laying out for digs. By the end of the match, the Cardinal had racked up a season-high 60 digs, led by junior libero Evan Enriques’ season-best 15 digs.
The Saturday UCSB match followed a five-set thriller against No. 4 UCLA on Thursday, when Stanford came back from a 2-1 deficit to sink the No. 4 Bruins.
“UCLA was a big win, but UCSB is a great team,” said sophomore outside hitter Jordan Ewert. “We had to come in forgetting about Thursday. We had to realize that this team could take us and they came out hard every set. This game just came down to a few points.”
Ewert surpassed his Thursday career-high with a match-best 26 kills. He was one of several Cardinal players to earn career-best numbers. Senior middle Kevin Rakestraw also tallied a career-high 19 kills on .586 hitting. Fifth-year senior outside hitter Gabriel Vega, freshman opposite Mason Tufuga and junior setter Kyle Dagostino also reached double-digit kills for the Cardinal. Vega racked up 16 kills, while Tufuga and Dagostino both chipped in with 13. Offensively, Stanford out-hit UCSB .253 to .217 with a season-high 84 kills.
Freshman setter Paul Bischoff posted his second career double-double, with career-highs in assists (55) and digs (13). Stanford also racked up 14 blocks as a team, many of which came at crucial moments in the match. Blocks by freshman middle blocker Stephen Moye clinched the third and fourth sets to extend the match for Stanford. Moye ended the night with career-high eight blocks.
Stanford started slowly in the first set, going down 3-0 at the start before fighting to tie at 12-all. Rakestraw came through with two kills to bring the Cardinal to a 16-14 lead. But Stanford saw that lead vanish quickly after UCSB brought the score to 20-20 before taking back-to-back points. The Gauchos finished off the first set with a score of 25-23, hitting .409 as a team to Stanford’s .219.
The second set was a neck-and-neck battle. A long rally ended by a Vega kill brought the set to 15-14, only for UCSB regain the lead again after that. To retaliate, Stanford staged a comeback of its own, tying the set at 21. The set continued at a tie for the next 20 points, with back-and-forth set point opportunities for both teams. The Gauchos would break the tie to win the set 43-41, the most combined points in a set (84) in Stanford’s history.
“It’s all tactics from that point,” said head coach John Kosty. “It’s all about trying to get the guys to stay focused and not worry about the score and just worried about the side-out or the point. It could go to 60-60 for all we know, so we just have to be in it for the long run.”
Of the marathon second, Ewert also stressed the team’s need for simplicity. “After every point, if they scored, we would say, ‘next point,’” he said. “If we scored, it was, ‘hey, next point’. You can’t do anything about the point before.”
Stanford came out with a vengeance in the third set, but the score remained tight. The teams hit ties at 23 and 24 points apiece, but Stanford made the most of its second set-point opportunity to claim the third set and stay alive.
After that, the Cardinal were on a roll. With the team fired up, Stanford took the first two points in the fourth. Thanks to two kills by Tufuga in quick succession followed by a block, the Cardinal were up 14-9 midway through the set. The freshman has been on fire lately, racking up double-digit kills in two straight matches.
“I’m glad that my coaches have trusted me enough to play in those big moments,” Tufuga said. “I feed off of everyone doing well and I like to get people going, so I was trying to make everyone loosen up a bit.”
After stretching the lead to 21-13, its largest lead of the night, Stanford would not falter, holding on to take the fourth by a resounding score of 25-15.
Going into the deciding fifth set, Stanford needed to remain consistent.
“It felt like it was a continuation of the fourth set,” Kosty said. “We were confident and we knew what we needed to do. We knew Santa Barbara had another wind in them, and they showed it, but we were resilient enough to fight that off and take the win.”
Stanford took a 8-5 lead at the changeover and take control with two straight kills to stretch the lead to five points. UCSB fought back to 13-10 before a Stanford match point. An attack error ended the long match, with Stanford prevailing 15-10.
Saturday’s record-breaking comeback is even more impressive coming off of Thursday’s win against higher-ranked UCLA. Stanford has shown resiliency in its past two matches, a promising sign for the rest of the season.
“We came together as a collective group,” Ewert said. “That’s what we do — we stick together.”
Contact Laura Anderson at lauraand ‘at’ stanford.edu.