By James Hemker
Without its starting setter and libero, the No. 8 men’s volleyball team struggled to find momentum against third-ranked UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos claimed the 25-21, 25-18, 25-18 match in just under 90 minutes.
With the setter position in disarray due to injury, redshirt freshman libero Justin Lui got the start, and junior outside hitter J.P. Reilly filled in at libero. Given the circumstances, Stanford kept the match close with strong serving and defense in an effort to make up for the stumbling offense.
Having never played a match at setter, Lui struggled to find a rhythm with his hitters. As a team, Stanford hit just .110 with 26 kills. At times, the Cardinal were able to force long rallies, slowing down the very fast Gauchos’ offense. Stanford did well in controlling the chaos, with five of the 25 total assists coming from players other than Lui.
Despite leading the offense, Lui found plenty of ways to contribute defensively. At 5’10”, he was able to record two block assists, and he almost had a solo block that was upped at the last moment. Lui made a couple of huge digs in the cross court against unblocked hitters that the Cardinal were then able to capitalize on.
“There are definitely some parallels coming over to setter from libero,” Lui said. “But I did get mixed up a bit out there, so there are things I will need to work on if I’m still going to be setting.”
Junior opposite Jaylen Jasper was the only player on the court to reach double-digit kills, turning in 11. Equally as significant was his ace to go along with just two service errors. In the loss last week to UC Irvine, Jasper led the team with eight service errors.
Strong Cardinal serving prevented the Gauchos from quickly setting their middles or pins as often as they would have liked. The slower pace gave Stanford’s defense a good chance to transition to a strong offensive play.
Outside hitter Will Rottman recorded eight more kills on a team-high .304 hitting. The freshman did his best to jump start each set from all aspects of the game. At the beginning of the second, he and senior middle Stephen Moye blocked two of UCSB’s first three shots. The third frame opened with a kill from Rottman, which he chased with an ace.
Stanford was unable to capitalize on these early burst of energy, as the Gauchos strung together long runs. Without Lui to anchor the back row, the Cardinal struggled to pass well. UCSB fired off five aces over the game.
In what could have been an ugly blowout, Stanford’s defense kept the team in the match. UCSB hit just .198 on the evening, well below its previous season-low of .351. The Cardinal matched the Gauchos with 10 blocks, six of them coming from Moye. Rottman tallied four more and junior middle Kyler Presho had three.
“They ran a very, very quick offense, so we had a blocking plan in place to stop them,” Lui said. “We got them a few times, but they kept coming at us and we weren’t always prepared.”
Stanford will now have a week to prepare before it returns to the court. This match marked the end of the non-conference slate for the Cardinal. The team will be back in action next week with its first MPSF opponent, Grand Canyon University, on Feb. 1.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.