After Stanford began the season on a three-game win streak, its best start since 2019, No. 12 men’s volleyball (3-2, 0-0 MPSF) ran into a wall, dropping two straight against No. 15 UC Irvine (3-1, 0-0 Big West) and No. 10 UC San Diego (2-0, 0-0 Big West).
The losses put a damper on the surprise win-streak for the embattled program that was nearly cut last season. The team anticipated a tough fight against the two powerhouse volleyball programs on Friday and Saturday, and that’s what they got. But despite the lopsided final scores of both games, with the Cardinal losing 3-1 against Irvine and being swept in straight sets 3-0 by San Diego, the matchups were hard-fought.
On Friday, the Anteaters jumped out to an early 2-0 set lead behind the powerful arm of freshman outside hitter Hilir Henno, who recorded 18 kills on a strong .457 hitting in the match. While Stanford showed grit on defense — led by reigning MPSF defensive player of the week, redshirt junior libero Justin Lui — Irvine gave the Cardinal almost no room to breathe.
Stanford broke through in the third set despite trailing by four points late, capitalizing on offensive errors from the Anteaters and taking the set 25-23. After battling back again to a 21-21 tie in the fourth set, it looked like Stanford was going to be able to force a fifth set, but two late errors cost the Cardinal the set and the match, falling 25-22.
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Ethan Hill was a bright spot for the Cardinal in Friday’s loss. Earning his first start of the season, Hill led the team with a career-best .462 hitting percentage and recorded seven kills in the process.
If the Cardinal were looking for an easier test on Saturday against San Diego, they didn’t get it. The Tritons showed their mettle early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first set. But Stanford did not look defeated against the high-powered San Diego offense. Though the Cardinal never looked in control, they managed to score at least 20 points in every set behind an impressive performance from junior outside hitter Will Rottman. Rottman tallied 18 kills, three aces and two blocks on Saturday night.
The match was also a homecoming for two San Diego natives: junior middle blockers Adam Chang and Nathaniel Gates. Despite the loss, both looked right at home, recording four kills each on .571 and .500 hitting percentages, respectively.
At times this weekend, Stanford looked a lot like last year’s team, which fell victim to close loss after close loss. But this Cardinal team clearly knows what it takes to win. Over the next week, Stanford will look to bounce back from the winless road trip and capitalize on early success at home against Vanguard and UC Santa Cruz.