Stanford men’s volleyball (0-2, 0-2 MPSF) fell to No. 6 Pepperdine (4-2, 4-2 MPSF) again on Saturday in the two teams’ second-straight matchup. After losing their season opener on Thursday in three sets, the Cardinal put up a better fight on Saturday and are maintaining their optimism despite the winless start to the season.
According to head coach John Kosty, the team arrived on campus two and a half weeks ago and has only practiced together 14 times since March of last year.
“We really focused on the team,” Kosty said. “I was really proud of them, to give close to everybody an opportunity to play in the last few matches.”
The teams played a close first set, with the Cardinal barely falling despite holding a 22-20 lead at one point. Two consecutive attacking errors by sophomore outside hitter Kevin Lamp and sophomore middle blocker Nathaniel Gates were critical in the set’s final points as Pepperdine pulled together a 5-0 run to secure the first set.
Outside hitter Kupono Browne came alive in the second set, racking up seven kills. Browne hit .362 on 47 total attempts in the matchup, a sharp increase in workload for the true freshman who didn’t log a single attempt in the teams’ first matchup.
“I’ve been dying to get back onto the court,” Browne said, admitting that he needs to improve on the other side of the ball. “I think I could’ve had better involvement in our defense, but I also feel like we could do a better job of distributing the set better.”
Sophomore setter Nathan Lietzke scored back-to-back kills and combined with Browne to propel the team to a 17-10 lead in the second set. The Cardinal were able to maintain their lead over the back half of the set and even the match with a 25-20 score in the second set. Kosty praised Lietzke for his role running the offense in the match.
“We’re gonna lean on him to give us leadership on the court, and also set our offense at a really high level,” he said.
The third set closely resembled the first. The two teams played back-and-forth early, but three straight errors by the Cardinal gave Pepperdine a 13-10 lead. After a timeout and a quick kill by Brown, Stanford struggled on defense and saw their deficit grow to five points, prompting another timeout from Kosty. It wasn’t enough to stem the bleeding, however, as the Waves ran away with the second set, 25-18.
A nailbiter fourth set finally saw the Cardinal’s offense start to click, but service errors on both sides stopped either team from gaining momentum. A clutch block by Browne and Gates gave Stanford a 17-16 lead, and a follow-up kill by Browne three points later forced Pepperdine to call a timeout.
Browne also had three service aces over the course of the match, including one following Pepperdine’s timeout, but a service error on the subsequent point kept the game close. A kill from Pepperdine’s Spencer Wickens forced a timeout from Stanford, after which Browne scored another kill after the Waves sent the ball into the rafters and out of play.
Two service errors forced the game into extra points, and Pepperdine jumped out to an early advantage. With the match on the line, Kosty called another timeout. A service error by Wickens kept the Cardinal alive, but the team only managed to hang on for a few more points before dropping the final set 28-26.
Stanford and Pepperdine face off in a third match in Malibu on Mar. 3.
“We still have a lot of growth ahead of us as volleyball players and as a team, and I’m really looking forward to, over the next week and a half, coaching our guys up,” Kosty said.