The last time No. 12 Stanford men’s volleyball (11-11, 3-6 MPSF) took on their longtime rivals from Brighman Young (8-13, 3-6 MPSF), the Cougars made quick work of the Cardinal in Provo, winning both 2021 matches in straight sets. But on Friday, the Stanford squad appeared worlds away from the team BYU had faced just a year ago. They gave the Cougars little breathing room on the way, sweeping the doubleheader’s first match.
The upset marked the Cardinal’s first win against Brigham Young in over six years, the first home win over the Cougars since 2015 and the first sweep over BYU in a decade.
For junior outside Will Rottman, who led the team with 18 kills on Friday and had a career-high attack percentage of .680, the victory was a long time in the making.
“I’ve never played BYU here,” he said of Maples Pavilion. “I’ve played them on the road three or four times in my career, and I haven’t beaten them.”
But that all changed on Friday.
“They’re really tough at their place,” Rottman said. “So we kind of wanted to match that and say ‘welcome’ hard.”
Rottman made the Cardinal’s intentions known early in the first set. He had two kills and an ace to score Stanford’s first three points. Led on the attack by outside hitters Davide Gardini and Kupono Browne, BYU looked to be an even opponent. The two teams alternated points and battled for control. Rottman proved instrumental in keeping Stanford in the set. He narrowed the Cougars’ lead with back-to-back service aces late in the set, and his teammates followed suit with clutch plays that kept the set alive.
Once the game was tied, 24-24, it became a three-man battle between Browne, Gardini and Rottman. Browne’s efforts gave BYU set point at 25-24, but a kill from Rottman prevented the Cougars from converting. Browne attacked again for a third set point at 26-25; again, an attack by Rottman evened the score. Rottman then struck to give Stanford its first set point, which Gardini quickly stopped with a kill. Rottman responded by finding a second set point for the Cardinal. A moment later, Gardini sent a kill into the net, giving Stanford victory in the marathon first set, 29-27.
Going into the second set, efforts from Turner and junior middle blocker Nathaniel Gates at the net helped to further the Cardinal’s growing momentum. The pair made things especially difficult for Browne, Gardini and fellow outside hitter Miks Ramanis. While Stanford’s hitters faced stiff opposition from BYU’s blocking, they continued to find ways around the block and were aggressive at the net themselves.
A block from Rottman and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Ethan Hill extended Stanford’s lead to 19-14, followed up a couple points later with a dump by Lietzke to bring the score to 21-16. A kill from Gardini denied one set point but was quickly followed by a BYU service error which gave Stanford the set, 25-20, and a 2-1 lead.
Gates and Turner again found their rhythm blocking in the third set, giving Stanford an early lead with two well-timed blocks. Rottman’s continued dominance at the net made it impossible for BYU to surpass Stanford for the set lead. Lietzke denied Gardini, giving the Cardinal an even more comfortable lead of 22-17. Two kills from Rottman and Gates followed, bringing up matchpoint. The Cougars’ managed to save three match points, leading to a Cardinal timeout.
Rottman came out of the timeout seemingly more than ready to close out the match, which he did in decisive fashion with a kill. A 25-22 set win clinched the sweep for Stanford.
When asked about the outside hitter’s standout performance, head coach John Kosty initially only had two words to describe what he had seen: “Will Rottman.”
“He’s a big physical player who is only now coming into his own,” Kosty said.. “This is the first year that he’s truly trained the entire season, and it’s now showing in all of the hard work he put in to get to this position.”
Along with Rottman’s 18 kills, junior outside hitter Kevin Lamp had 11 and Gates had eight. Junior setter Nathan Lietzke contributed 36 assists, and Stanford also markedly improved their blocking game from last week’s doubleheader against Grand Canyon: Gates made five, Turner made four, and Hill, three. Turner managed six digs, as Lietzke and redshirt junior libero Justin Lui each had five. Rottman also had three aces on the night.
“They showed us some holes in our serve-receive and our passing, and we have to tighten some of those up,” Kosty said, previewing tonight’s rematch.
In particular, Kosty cited Browne and Gardini, who still managed 14 and 16 kills apiece on Friday.
“We don’t have to be more than what we truly are,” Kosty said. “And what we are is a good, solid team that’s tough to beat.”
“Hopefully we can do it again tomorrow,” Rottman said. “I think that’s the mark of a really good team. I think we need to string together two wins—and two convincing wins.”