No. 9 Stanford men’s volleyball (8-5, 1-1 MPSF) split its series with No. 7 Pepperdine (9-5, 1-1 MPSF) this weekend to kick off conference play. After being swept by the Waves on Friday, the Cardinal settled in to outlast their MPSF foes in five sets the following night.
The victory marked Stanford’s first against Pepperdine since 2017, as well as their first home triumph over the Waves in nearly a decade. Saturday night’s performance was also notable given that Stanford was missing leading point scorer and First Team All-American senior outside Will Rottman due to an injury sustained during last week’s matchups with No. 1 Hawaii (11-0, 0-0 Big West). But in Rottman’s absence, several Cardinal players stepped up to split the weekend series.
Friday: 19-25, 16-25, 22-25
Pepperdine made relatively quick work of Stanford on Friday night in a straightforward three-set victory. They were led on the attack by four-time AVCA All-American honorable mention Jaylen Jasper ʼ21, who played for the Cardinal for several seasons before transferring to Pepperdine following the since-overturned decision to cut the Stanford men’s volleyball program.
In his return to the Farm, Jasper continued his dominance as he hit a blistering .783 while leading the Waves with 20 kills. The Cardinal struggled to shut down Pepperdine’s solid offense, quarterbacked by setter Bryce Dvorak and his 40 assists. In the end, Pepperdine hit .571 to Stanford’s .317.
Despite the straight-set loss, the Cardinal’s performance had several bright spots. They out-blocked the Waves with seven total blocks, while Pepperdine managed just three. Four of Stanford’s blocks came from senior middle blocker Nathaniel Gates, whose .800 attack percentage on eight kills with no errors marked a team best on the season. Freshman outside Theo Snoey led the Cardinal offensively with nine kills.
But while set three proved more competitive than the first two, Stanford was ultimately unable to shut down the Waves’ building momentum. A kill from Pepperdine’s Akin Akinwumi, followed by a service ace on the hand of teammate Ryan Barnett, closed out the sweep for the Waves.
Saturday: 20-25, 25-20, 25-17, 23-25, 15-12
When Pepperdine held its composure to take set one on Saturday in Maples Pavilion, the prospect of another straight-set loss loomed for the Cardinal. But by set two, Stanford was not only competing with its opponents, but outplaying them.
One of Pepperdine’s only weaknesses on Friday appeared to be in its service game. The team recorded 18 over three sets, in comparison to Stanford’s 10. And, facing a seemingly tighter Cardinal squad on Saturday, these errors began to rack up at inopportune moments. The Waves finished the night with 26, opening the door for Stanford offensively.
Senior setter Nathan Lietzke ran a strong offense, successfully feeding the team’s pin hitters to maximum effect and finishing with 45 assists to his name. The result was the best night of senior outside Kevin Lamp’s career on the attack: 18 kills while hitting .500. Snoey continued to show his maturity as a freshman, contributing 14 kills and two aces, while junior opposite Luke Turner stepped up with 10 kills.
Though without their kill leader in Rottman, the Cardinal showed both the depth of their bench and the ability to compete with a top team in their conference. After an ace from Lietzke claimed the second set 25-20, they set the stage early in set three with a commanding 12-4 lead. Pepperdine never worked their way back into the set, which Stanford won comfortably on a setter dump from Lietzke, 25-17.
Set four saw Stanford battling to close out the match, while the Waves fought to keep their chances alive. In the end, well-timed kills from Akinwumi and Barnett gave Pepperdine the set 25-23 and forced a fifth.
Taking advantage of the opposition’s mounting errors, the Cardinal found an 8-5 lead and held onto it, despite consistent attempts by Pepperdine to cut it down through both on-court play and timeouts. Jasper denied Stanford one match point. But it was only fitting that, on a weekend defined by new standouts, the matchup was sealed with a kill from Snoey, 15-12.
Conference play will continue for Stanford on the road next week against No. 12 USC (6-6, 0-2 MPSF). First serve against the Trojans is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. PT.