By Cybele Zhang
After the best regular season start since 2016, No. 8 Stanford (15-10, 6-6 MPSF) men’s volleyball will tackle their next challenge this Saturday: the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Quarterfinal. The MPSF is debatably the most competitive collegiate men’s volleyball conference in the nation, so the Cardinal must deliver against No. 12 Brigham Young (12-11, 6-6 MPSF) this weekend if they hope to prolong their season and potentially bring home a title.
Currently, all seven MPSF teams rank in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll. No. 4 Pepperdine (20-6, 9-3 MPSF, which tops the MPSF standings, is the highest nationally ranked of the conference’s schools. No. 13 Concordia (14-18, 3-9 MPSF), which rounds out the bottom of the conference’s standings, is still impressive in the national rankings — speaking to the depth and talent of the MPSF.
The conference champion, which will be played for on April 20, will be rewarded with an automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, both No. 12 BYU and No. 6 UCLA (18-8, 8-4 MPSF) represented the MPSF in the national tournament, and the Bruins made it all the way to the NCAA title game — which they narrowly lost to No. 2 Long Beach State (23-1, 8-0 Big West).
Because the Waves top the conference rankings, Pepperdine will have a bye and wins an automatic bid to the MPSF Semifinal. The No. 2- through No. 4- ranked teams, however, will host No. 5 through No. 7 in quarterfinal matches. Therefore, in addition to the Stanford versus BYU game, UCLA will play Concordia and No. 3 Southern California (16-9, 7-5 MPSF) will play No. 15 Grand Canyon (14-18, 3-9) on Saturday. The two highest-seeded winners will then play each other on April 18, and the lowest remaining seeded team will take on the Waves in Malibu.
The Cardinal’s home game on Saturday will be the first postseason match in Maples Pavilion since 2016. That year, Stanford fell in five sets to No. 3 UC Santa Barbara (17-7, 4-4 Big West) in the MPSF Quarterfinals. The Gauchos, however, no longer compete in the MPSF due to recent conference restructuring.
The last time the Cardinal and Cougars met in the postseason was in 2017 in a MPSF Quarterfinal match in Provo. BYU won 3-0.
The teams have already met twice this regular season on both Feb. 28 and March 2. In the first game, which was held in Utah, BYU secured the five-set victory. A few days later in Maples, however, Stanford bounced back to win in four. In that game, Cougar setter Will Stanley went out with an injury and was unable to return, certainly influencing the outcome of the game.
Because of the 6-foot-4 Hawaiian’s injury, Brigham Young has instead turned to freshman setter Brody Earnest to finish out the season. The Cougars have struggled somewhat offensively since the swap and are currently on a four-game losing streak.
Stanford, in contrast, enter the game on a one-game win streak after sweeping Grand Canyon and have a reliable setter in junior Paul Bischoff, who has 914 assists on the season and averages 10.27 assists per game.
Nevertheless, BYU flaunts offensive power in opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez out of Puerto Rico, who leads the league with with 4.36 kills per set and 5.13 points per set. For comparison, Stanford’s kill per set leader is sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper who averages 3.73 kills per set and 4.25 points per set. Cougar outside hitter Davide Giardini out of Italy adds another offensive threat, averaging 3.40 kills per set and 4.06 points per set.
Brigham Young also poses a defensive threat at the net and leads the conference in blocks per set with 2.53. The Cougars, however, consistently struggle on the road and are just 2-8 away from Smith Fieldhouse.
If Stanford hopes to win and draw out their season, the Cardinal must hit well and play cohesively despite the loud BYU fans, who generally turn out in large numbers. First serve will be at 7 p.m. PST on Saturday, April 13 in Maples.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.