No. 14 Stanford men’s volleyball (6-3, 0-0 MPSF) split its trip to Austin, Texas, leaving the First Point Collegiate Challenge with a win against Farleigh Dickinson (0-5, 0-0 IVA) and a loss to No. 1 Hawai’i (7-2, 0-0 Big West).
The round-robin format tournament at the Austin Convention Center was a homecoming for several current and former Cardinal after a two-week break following two straight wins. Junior setter Nathan Lietzke grew up in Austin, playing volleyball less than 25 miles away at his family’s gym. Playing volleyball in Texas may have also brought back memories for members of last year’s Stanford team, which set up shop in Austin last season when the team couldn’t return to Santa Clara due to COVID-19 policies.
The First Point Collegiate Challenge also marked a sign of growth for the game of collegiate men’s volleyball, which had never before been played in the state of Texas. The tournament intended to give first-time men’s volleyball programs the opportunity to compete against the country’s top programs. Before a COVID-19 outbreak, Stanford was initially slated to play Kentucky State (1-3, 0-0 SIAC), an HBCU program in its first year of competition. Instead, the Cardinal opened the Challenge on Friday against Farleigh Dickinson, whose program is more established and dates back to 1977.
Stanford sweeps Farleigh Dickinson
Stanford made quick work of the Knights, walking away with a 25-20, 25-16, 25-16 sweep. Farleigh Dickinson had no answer for Stanford’s relentless offensive attack on Friday, which capitalized on defensive mistakes as the game wore on. Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Ethan Hill, junior outside hitter Will Rottman and junior outside hitter Kevin Lamp combined for 28 kills in just three sets with only four errors. Hill’s .727 hitting percentage was just another notch on the list of impactful performances that the UCLA transfer has put together in his second season at Stanford.
If Stanford showed any weakness against Farleigh Dickinson, it came in the service game. The Cardinal tallied 17 service errors while recording just three aces on the afternoon. Set to compete against a reigning national championship Hawai’i team that has made its name this season on the back of precise and powerful serves, cleaning up serves was a must.
Facing the Rainbow Warriors was not just an opportunity for Stanford to match up against the top team in the country. It was also a chance to compete against former Stanford middle blocker Kyler Presho ’21, who transferred to Hawai’i to fulfill his final year of eligibility.
“This is a new experience for us,” Stanford coach John Kosty said, previewing the game. “We usually don’t have transfers on the other side of the net, but we’re just going to get fired up. We’re playing against the number one team, we’re playing against Kyler and we are gonna get after it.”
For Presho, playing against his former teammates was going to be a triumphant return regardless of the game’s result. Last year, Presho was one of the leading voices fighting against the discontinuation of the Stanford men’s volleyball program.
“It’s some mixed emotions for sure,” Presho said of facing his former teammates on Friday. “I’m excited to go out there and play against all my old buddies. A lot of these guys are going to be my friends for life. We’ve been through hell and back together on that team, and getting to see them yesterday walking out of practice was so cool.”
While at Hawai’i, Presho said he has experienced a different style of coaching than he did at Stanford.
“We focus a lot more on the fundamentals and making our players into all-around volleyball players, whereas at Stanford, we were definitely highly focused on everybody being really good at their position,” he explained.
As for the Rainbow Warriors’ preparation for the game, Presho said he and the team’s eyes were on Lietzke.
“Lietzke is the hardest working volleyball player I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Presho said. “You can’t keep that guy out of the gym. When you’ve got somebody like that, you are going to get better — point blank, period, year after year.”
For the Cardinal, going up against a former teammate was not going to get in the way of the team’s goals, Hill said ahead of the game.
“If we play our game, we can take them,” Hill said. “As long as we focus on our side of the net, we can beat anybody.”
Stanford falls 3-1 to Hawai’i
In the early moments of the game, it looked like Hill’s prediction was correct. After battling back and forth during the first half of set one, Hill helped the Cardinal find separation, recording five kills and two solo blocks in the 25-19 win.
But while Hawai’i looked beatable in the first set, they were ironclad for the rest of the game. The Cardinal looked helpless against the Rainbow Warriors’ offense, whose serves can regularly rise into the 70-75 mph range. Stanford fell behind by 10 points early in the second set and, unable to close the deficit, dropped the set 25-13.
Though Stanford was able to put up a stronger fight in the next two sets, stretches of attack errors in both sets put too large of a gap between the two teams for the Cardinal to come back. Stanford dropped the third and fourth sets 25-19, losing the game 3-1 after the strong start.
Despite the loss, Lietzke put together a strong performance in his hometown, tallying 34 assists on the night.
Presho, who earned the start against Stanford, recorded a dig and a kill with no errors for Hawai’i, despite playing limited minutes.
Stanford’s next opportunity will come at home on Friday against Menlo (9-0, 0-0 GSAC), as the Cardinal look to improve to 7-3.