Following a pair of victories last weekend that demonstrated the young team’s potential, No. 12 Stanford men’s volleyball (12-12, 4-7 MPSF) headed down to Malibu for its final conference doubleheader of the regular season against No. 8 Pepperdine University (15-9, 6-5 MPSF). Despite glimpses of the skilled play that has helped them at home all season, the Cardinal could not escape the Waves’ offensive riptide and were swept in straight sets.
Stanford entered the match on Thursday night still seeking its first win on the road this season, and its first win against Pepperdine since 2017.
Additionally, Stanford faced a former teammate in Pepperdine outside hitter Jaylen Jasper. Jasper earned three All-American honorable mentions while playing for the Cardinal and has similarly excelled at Pepperdine, posting a season high 33 kills — besting his previous record of 29 kills for the Cardinal — this year after opting out of playing for Stanford during the 2021 season.
Jasper was in on the action from the start as the Waves took an early lead. He and middle blocker Austin Wilmot denied Stanford junior outside hitter Kevin Lamp with a block to extend Pepperdine’s advantage to 6-3. Jasper’s strong serving further stretched the gap to 9-4. Only a couple points later, he landed a kill to make it 10-5.
Pepperdine built on that lead, as setter Bryce Dvorak ran a diverse offense allowing for wave after wave of attacks which Stanford struggled to contain. The Waves took the set comfortably, 25-18.
Stanford raced out to a 4-1 lead in set two, but Pepperdine quickly regained its rhythm from the opening set to bridge the gap. The teams traded points but neither could seem to find a foothold.
Up 12-11, the Waves took advantage of Cardinal errors and their own offensive prowess to extend their lead to 15-11. They applied relentless pressure at the net, forcing Stanford out of system and denying junior outside hitter Will Rottman’s persistent swings. A kill from Jasper and an ace by Dvorak gave the Waves set point at 24-18. Though Rottman edged out a two-man block to deny one set point, a Cardinal service error gave Pepperdine the set 25-19, and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Heading into the third set, Stanford found itself in a similar position to the team’s previous match. Down two sets to none against unranked Brigham Young University (8-14, 3-7 MPSF) last Saturday, the Cardinal launched an unwavering comeback to take the reverse sweep in a dramatic fifth set.
A block from junior middle blocker Nathaniel Gates and junior setter Nathan Lietzke clinched the opening point and set the tone for Stanford’s play throughout most of the set. The Cardinal varied its offense, employing strong attacks from both sides, as well as from the back row by Rottman. Stanford remained neck-and-neck with Pepperdine, even finding momentum to take a three-point lead 13-10. The Cardinal’s early-set play was reminiscent of last week’s doubleheader sweep.
The advantage proved to be temporary, however, as Pepperdine quickly reined in the gap.
Though the two teams would trade the lead a few more times, from the moment the divide was closed, the Waves appeared in control. Stanford called two timeouts late in the set, but neither managed to reenergize the team.
While the Cardinal narrowed the deficit to 22-19, that was as close as they could get. An attack error from Rottman brought on match point, and another ace by Dvorak — his fourth of the match — earned Pepperdine the set 25-19, and the doubleheader’s first match, 3-0.
In the end, Stanford had a combined hitting percentage of just .259 compared to Pepperdine’s .419. Rottman led the team with nine kills, while redshirt sophomore middle blocker Ethan Hill and true sophomore outside hitter Luke Turner were close behind with seven apiece. Lietzke tallied 29 assists, and he, Turner and redshirt junior libero Justin Lui each posted five digs.
Stanford’s roster of just 14 is almost half the size of Pepperdine’s, which clocks in at 26 players. This is a reality that the Cardinal, who did not welcome a recruiting class due to the University’s since-overturned decision to discontinue the program, have had to manage all season.
“It’s been a long season,” said head coach John Kosty following last week’s victory over BYU. “We’ve tried to manage our really small roster and allow them to be fresh.”
With the postseason right around the corner, Kosty says the team is readying itself for MPSF tournament play. The second match of the doubleheader against Pepperdine will be its last in the regular season. First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 16 in the Firestone Fieldhouse.
“We are now in the last stage of our training,” Kosty said last Friday. “It’s now tapering, in swimming terms. And just fine tuning and giving them that emotional and physical rejuvenation to finish out the season strong.”