By James Hemker
Eighth-ranked men’s volleyball is set to host No. 3 UC Santa Barbara on Saturday. The Cardinal — who lost their last match to No. 5 UC Irvine — enter the weekend with a question mark at the setter position.
Freshman outside hitter Kevin Lamp assumed starting setter duties against the Anteaters in the four-set loss. Senior setter Paul Bischoff and freshman backup Nathan Lietzke were both sidelined with injury, and it is unclear who will be ready to start against the Gauchos.
Lamp set just a couple of frames during the first weekend of the season, and whatever experience he gained from the outing paid dividends. The freshman tallied 50 assists, 11 more than all of Irvine, and his offense hit at a .297 clip. Irvine profited from 28 Cardinal service errors — the most committed by the program in over two years.
With the first two home games of the season scheduled during winter break, the match with UCSB (5-0, 0-0 Big West) will be Stanford’s (4-2, 0-0 MPSF) first real home match. The Cardinal faithful will see a new team with as many new faces as familiar ones. The eight upperclassmen are matched by seven freshmen (one is a redshirt).
A fifty-fifty split between freshmen and veterans is not an accurate way of looking at the team, said head coach John Kosty. The freshmen have all quickly assimilated into their new environments, both academically and athletically. They have quickly risen to the level demanded of collegiate volleyball players. Redshirt freshman Justin Lui is the team’s sole libero, and freshman Will Rottman is one of two starting outsides.
“The things that you thought would have happened because half the team are freshmen really aren’t coming into fruition,” Kosty said. “This year’s bright, and the future’s bright because we got a great freshman class.”
The freshmen and upperclassmen alike will be tested when the Gauchos take the court on Saturday evening. The Cardinal are 2-5 against UCSB dating back to 2015. A strong passing team with a very fast offense, the Gauchos pose a different threat from the big, powerful Irvine team.
Stanford has an advantage in that it has already played against the archetype this year. St. Francis, another small, quick team, beat the Cardinal in five sets earlier this month. The key to beating UCSB will be slowing down its offense and keeping the players off the net. If that happens, the match becomes much simpler.
“Then we can concentrate more on their strong tendencies and less on the speed of their offense,” Kosty said.
For a team that just had its worst service game in two seasons, the game plan could be considered tenuous. However, during the Irvine game, Stanford was specifically trying to up its service pressure. The coaching staff and the team know they need to strike a careful balance between simply putting the ball in play and serving with reckless abandon.
“The onus goes on everybody, but mostly the coaching staff for making sure that we are confident in what we’re doing from the service line,” Kosty said.
An upset this early in the year at Maples would not be without precedent. Last year, the Cardinal downed then-No. 2 UC Irvine in four sets to secure their seventh win of the season.
First serve will be at 5 p.m. PST from Maples Pavilion.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.