No. 12 Stanford men’s volleyball (8-5, 0-0 MPSF) will return from its road trip winless after losing to both No. 2 Long Beach State (8-2, 0-0 Big West) and unranked Cal State Northridge (5-3, 0-0 Big West). Despite showing glimpses of top-tier play, unforced errors and careless late-set play held the Cardinal back during the weekend trip.
The back-to-back losses are a setback in what has been an otherwise resurgent season for the team. Nationally ranked for the first time in more than a year, Stanford’s small group of returning student-athletes have demonstrated growth throughout the first two months of non-conference play. As the Cardinal headed to Long Beach to face the high-powered LBSU team Friday, they looked to build on early success with a statement win.
Out of the gate, the Cardinal kept Long Beach State within reach, relying on an offensive attack led by junior outside hitter Will Rottman and junior middle blocker Nathaniel Gates. However, three Cardinal errors on the first set’s final 5 points gave LBSU a 25-18 win and an early set advantage.
Stanford looked in control for most of the second set, jumping out to a 5-point lead by the first media timeout. While Long Beach State had capitalized on longer rallies in the first set, Stanford’s middle blockers stifled offensive opportunities for the Beach in the second set, giving Stanford a 22-17 lead and a chance to even the game at one set apiece. Then came five straight aces from Long Beach outside hitter Alex Nikolov.
“When one of the best under-19 players in the world goes back to serve, and he’s popping over 70 miles an hour and then chops a ball to the 10-foot line, you know, we don’t see those things,” said head coach John Kosty. “We actually had never seen that on any tape either. That was the first time he had done that.”
Ultimately, LBSU won the second set 25-22. The late-set collapse was too much for the Cardinal to recover from, and Long Beach built on this momentum in the third set. While defensive grit from junior libero Justin Lui kept the teams neck-and-neck for most of the set, a combination of LBSU service aces and Stanford attack errors gave the Beach another 25-18 win and a sweep.
“They’re one of the top teams in the country, and that’s what the top teams do,” Kosty said. “They find ways to win, and we’re learning how to do that right now … It’s a learning process.”
Stanford did not fare much better on Saturday night in Northridge.
The two teams had already met prior this season, when Stanford comfortably swept CSUN at home on Feb. 18. Going into Saturday night’s game, Northridge had only lost one set at home this season.
Just one day after its loss in Long Beach, the Cardinal got off to a slow start in the Matadome. With Stanford up 2-1 in the first set, CSUN outside hitter Kyle Hobus went on an 8-point serving run to give his team a 9-2 lead. The Cardinal never regained the lead in that set, which the Matadors won 25-15.
Stanford appeared more comfortable in the second set. The two teams traded points throughout, and both fought off set points, but a kill from redshirt sophomore middle blocker Ethan Hill ultimately clinched the set for Stanford 27-25.
The Matadors pushed back against the Cardinal’s momentum, taking the third set 25-20, to put Northridge ahead 2-1.
Although Stanford played some of its best volleyball of the night during the fourth set, it was not enough to force a fifth, deciding set, as CSUN edged out the Cardinal 26-24. The victory was the Matadors’ first ranked win since April 2021.
“Every once in a while, we’ll have a bad night,” Kosty said. “We didn’t have the greatest of nights. But it’s how you respond from those bad matches, and they really responded well.”
Despite the loss, there were some standout performances from the Cardinal. Junior outside hitter Kevin Lamp led the team with 14 kills, with Rottman just behind him at 11. Junior setter Nathan Lietzke totaled 31 assists, equaling his number on Friday night against the Beach. Lamp had 12 digs, while Lietzke and Lui had nine and eight, respectively.
Another promising performance came from sophomore outside hitter Aidan Peters. Subbed in late in the third set for Rottman, Peters made his presence known at the net. A starter in the fourth set, he finished the night with four kills, a block and an ace.
“He’s a true competitor and is a solid passer, and that’s exactly what we needed to improve our situation,” Kosty said. “They were putting us on our heels with their jump serves, and Aidan came in and settled us down.”
Next up, the Cardinal will face Concordia University in Irvine on Thursday for a conference matchup.
“If we do play our best volleyball,” Kosty said, “we have a good opportunity to get our win.”
First serve against the Eagles is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT.