After closing out its regular season last Saturday, No. 13 Stanford men’s volleyball (13-13, 4-8 MPSF) traveled to Los Angeles for the MPSF tournament, facing No. 10 Grand Canyon (16-12, 6-6 MPSF) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The Cardinal defeated the Lopes 3-1 to earn their first semifinal berth in the tournament since 2014.
In the two teams’ previous meetings just over a fortnight ago, GCU convincingly dispatched the Cardinal. But Stanford appeared a vastly different team this time around, breaking several stalemates in sets three and four to defeat the Lopes. It was a monumental victory for the team, whose first round loss in the same tournament last year was thought to be its last.
The Cardinal set the tone from the first serve, taking an early lead which they refused to relinquish for the remainder of the set. Their relentless attack was aided by errors from Grand Canyon.
Junior setter Nathan Lietzke attacked on the second touch for 14-10, and two GCU attack errors extended the Cardinal’s advantage to 16-10. Though the Lopes found openings and managed to rein in the deficit slightly — they got within two points at 19-17 — it was not enough. A second kill from Lietzke brought on set point, and junior outside hitter Kevin Lamp sealed the set for the Cardinal 25-21.
As a team, Stanford posted a blistering hitting percentage of .550 in the opening set. It put Grand Canyon on notice.
Looking to respond to the Cardinal’s decisive performance in set one, GCU raced out to a 7-4 lead in the second set. Junior outside hitter Will Rottman landed a kill, and Lamp blocked the Lopes’ opposite Hugo Fischer, as the Cardinal started to close in on their opponent.
Stanford continued to apply pressure and was aided by GCU’s attack errors. Strong offensive and defensive play allowed the Cardinal to pull ahead. They held off a mini comeback from the Lopes to take the set 25-20 and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The two sides kept the score tight as the match entered its third set. After Grand Canyon took an early lead, kills from sophomore opposite Luke Turner and Rottman evened the score at 12.
The Lopes’ quick start in the third set demonstrated that they were not backing down. But neither were the Cardinal. The teams traded points for the latter part of the set, and Grand Canyon clung to a 22-20 lead going into another Stanford timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Lopes quickly closed out the set 25-22.
The Cardinal still led the match 2-1, but the Lopes had evaded a sweep and demonstrated exactly why they were the No. 4 seed going into the MPSF tournament.
“We came into this match understanding how they were going to try to attack us,” said head coach John Kosty. “They’ve got some big arms on the outside. And so we knew they were going to come back from the service line and really put pressure on our side-out game.”
The opportunity of advancing to the semifinal was not one that Stanford was willing to give up. Kills from junior middle blocker Nathaniel Gates, Lamp and Rottman helped the team to a 7-4 lead early in the fourth set.
The Lopes charged back to take the lead, and Stanford responded to the quick turn of events with a timeout. Rottman emerged from the timeout to post several kills and help the Cardinal to a 15-12 advantage.
Play began to resemble the stalemate of the previous set. But GCU quickly broke the impasse, going on a three-point run to lead 21-18. Stanford responded with its own three-point run, restoring the dead heat at 21-all. Turner broke the tie at 22-all, and Rottman gave the Cardinal set point.
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Ethan Hill and Lietzke teamed for one final block, clinching the set 25-22 and the match 3-1. Stanford had put together a 7-1 scoring run exactly when they needed it.
“I thought it was an awesome team win,” Kosty said. “Everybody who played, including the bench, did a tremendous job. And you know, I’m just so proud of our team.”
Rottman led the Stanford squad with a match-high 25 kills.
“The growth of our team is the growth of Will,” Kosty said. “He’s just a player out there who has a specific job to do and he’s learning how to do it really, really well.”
Lamp and Gates followed Rottman with nine and five kills, respectively. Lietzke hit .750 with three kills of his own and led the team with 35 assists and 11 digs.
“Lietzke set a wonderful offense tonight,” Kosty said, adding that the setter “just did a terrific job of giving the sets that Will needed and everybody else needed to get those clutch kills, especially late in the fourth set.”
Redshirt junior libero Justin Lui had six digs, while Rottman contributed five. Hill posted seven blocks for the Cardinal, with Lamp and Lietzke close behind him with four each. Junior middle blocker Adam Chang recorded three service aces.
Next up, Stanford will face No. 1 UCLA (21-3, 11-1 MPSF) in the semifinals. The Cardinal are responsible for the Bruins sole conference defeat this season, but this time they will face off on UCLA’s turf. Kosty said his team is looking forward to the matchup.
“It’s exactly what you draw up,” he said. “You want the best team in the conference, and you get to play them on their home court… I think we’re up for the challenge.”
First serve is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT in Pauley Pavilion.