After a difficult regular season, No. 6 Stanford men’s volleyball (3-13, 3-13 MPSF) is slated to take on No. 3 Pepperdine (11-5, 11-5 MPSF) in the opening round of the MPSF Tournament on Thursday in Provo, Utah. The winner advances to Friday’s semifinal game.
In this season’s three games between Stanford and Pepperdine it was all Waves, with the Cardinal falling 3-0 and 3-1 at home and 3-0 in Malibu. The teams were set to play two more matches this past week, but both were canceled due to Covid-19 protocol within the Pepperdine program.
Last weekend’s match against Pepperdine was also supposed to be the team’s senior night, potentially the last for the program slated to be discontinued after the conclusion of this season. For the senior night matchup, the Cardinal were set to invite the families of the student-athletes and fans back to Maples in limited capacity for the first time this season. In place of the canceled match, the Cardinal held an intersquad scrimmage to commemorate the four seniors on the team: outside hitter JP Reilly, opposite Mason Tufuga, outside hitter Leo Henken and middle blocker Kyler Presho. It was a poetic end to a uniquely isolating season, according to Reilly.
“We started our season just playing each other and are ending our regular season playing each other,” Reilly said. “Being able to share a senior night with all the guys on the floor, playing at the same time, having fun, smiling, laughing, was really surreal.”
Reilly said that if he had to choose between a normal senior night experience and the one the team had this year, he “wouldn’t change a thing.”
Pride in the team’s resilience amid a season filled with adversity was the central message in the speeches that Reilly and the rest of the senior class delivered to the team after their senior night scrimmage.
It was also that spirit of resilience that allowed the Cardinal to put together their first multi-game win streak of the season with back-to-back home wins against Concordia heading into the MPSF Tournament. Though some of the momentum from those wins may have been lost after the two-and-a-half-week pause caused by the Pepperdine cancellations, Reilly said that the team is peaking at the right time.
“If you look at how we’ve been playing the past couple matches, I would not want to be a team playing Stanford men’s volleyball right now,” Reilly said. “Anything can happen in the playoffs, and if there is any moment when we would be ready to pull off something special, I think it would be now.”
Against the Waves, the Cardinal will be looking for Presho to step up in particular. Presho was a main reason that Stanford was able to snap its six-game losing streak in the first game against Concordia, as he secured 14 kills while hitting a phenomenal .684. Everyone will need to be at the top of their game if the Cardinal want to pull off the upset, and Presho is no exception. According to head coach John Kosty, the Cardinal will have to “serve tough” if they want to compete against Pepperdine’s strong middle blockers and move on in the tournament.
“This is an opportunity for Stanford men’s volleyball to go out and compete,” Kosty said. “Regardless of if the program comes back or not, they want to keep moving through the MPSF tournament. I think they’ve got the right mindset right now, that this match is no bigger than any other match. The significance of it, only time will tell.”
The match is set to start at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday.