Last week, No. 8 Stanford (15-13, 6-6, MPSF) men’s volleyball faced off against No. 12 USC (10-16, 3-9, MPSF) in the MPSF quarterfinals and No. 6 BYU (19-7, 9-5, MPSF) in the semifinals, bringing home the win both times. The Trojans proved to be a difficult opponent, but Stanford won 3-1, coming back with force after losing the first set. The 3-2 win against BYU on Thursday proved particularly notable after facing two tough losses to the Cougars the previous week. These wins advanced Stanford to the MPSF finals for the second year in a row, a historical moment in Stanford men’s volleyball history.
Head Coach John Kosty expressed his excitement over the team getting to play at home for the MPSF tournament. “We had a good crowd, exciting volleyball,” Kosty said.
Senior middle Nathaniel Gates expressed his gratitude for having the MPSF tournament at home.
“It’s amazing just having the fans there,” Gates said. “Kind of just having the home-court advantage. At the end of the day, it didn’t completely work out for us, but the past two games before this were really fun to have just at home, have a student body.”
On Saturday, the Cardinal competed against No. 2 UCLA (29-2, 12-0, MPSF) in the MPSF championship. This was their third time competing against the Bruins this season, a chance for redemption after losing the previous two matches against Cal. Despite their valiant efforts, the Cardinal lost the MPSF final in three sets. The team utilized impressive back row attacks and powerful tips, with senior outside Will Rottman leading the team with 13 of Stanford’s 29 kills.
For most of set one, Stanford and UCLA stayed neck-and-neck. A memorable moment consisted of senior outside Kevin Lamp setting up freshman opposite Theo Snoey for a kill, allowing the Cardinal to clinch a 4-3 lead. Although UCLA was able to catch up, taking a 9-6 lead over Stanford, a missed serve from the Bruins helped the Cardinal bounce back. A powerful serve by redshirt junior middle Ethan Hill, followed by a huge overpass kill by Lamp, acted as a turning point for the Cardinal.
Soon after, Snoey achieved a dynamic kill and Gates tricked the Bruins with a deceiving tip. When Snoey went back to serve at 12-13 Stanford, he tied the score with an influential ace. Gates and Snoey were dynamic at the net, shutting down UCLA with a block, bringing the score to 20-18 in favor of the Bruins. Near the end of the set, redshirt senior libero Justin Lui — in his final game — had a notable assist to Rottman. Despite bright moments from members of the team, Stanford lost the first set 25-22.
The nerves were high on the court during the start of set two, with many free balls over the net by the Cardinal. A back row attack initiated by senior setter Nathan Lietzke to Rottman brought the score to 6-4 in favor of UCLA. Rottman continued to be an unstoppable force with an eye for open spots on the court, tipping the ball and getting two other kills soon after. In a coordinated moment, Lietzke faked setting Hill in the front row, but the ball actually went to Rottman, who attacked from the back row. As a result, Stanford gained momentum, bringing the score to 13-10, with the Cardinal close behind the Bruins.
Rottman and Lamp had two more successful back row attacks soon after. Notably, the Cardinal aced the Bruins with one from Lamp, junior outside Aidan Peters (briefly subbing in for Gates) and Rottman. Rottman’s ace tied the score 19-all. Freshman setter Theoren Brouillette also came in to serve for the Cardinal and played strong defense with an impressive dig. However, the Cardinal weren’t able to secure the set win, losing 25-21.
The third set was the closest one yet, an effortful battle characterized by remarkable plays starting with an early Stanford lead. The set began with a slightly new lineup as junior outside Luke Turner came off the bench in place of Lamp. An early 3-1 lead was established due to a fantastic tip by Rottman and a missed serve by UCLA. After intense battling, Turner hit a magnificent kill, preserving Stanford’s lead for a score of 8-6.
Soon after, the Cardinal exhibited an especially spectacular moment of play, where it appeared as if Gates was motioning to hit, but the move played out to be a sensational back-row attack from Turner. Following a phenomenal ace and back row attack from Rottman, there was a great tip by Turner and an amazing suspense-filled rally ultimately won by UCLA. A subsequent ace by Turner, changing the score to 17-14, resulted in a palpable shift in crowd energy as everyone watching grew progressively louder and more excited. Lui covered the court with some extraordinary digs, resulting in an even score of 20 apiece. The Cardinal and the Bruins battled back and forth, but the Bruins eventually acquired the set win 25-23, signaling the end of the match.
Although Stanford lost the match, the team played with energy and grit.
“Great friendships off the court that build those relationships, [and] you can see [them] build strength in our team culture,” Kosty said in reference to the team’s cohesiveness and success this season. “Number two is just resiliency. I mean, three years ago from where they came from to where they are now is just an incredible growth.”
Gates and Rottman also stated how perseverant the team is.
“We had a lot of ups and downs this year,” Rottman said. “I know I did personally too. I think we showed our glimpses of our best at the end, just not our best all the way through. And I think that’s why we’re here in second place.”
“Favorite moments sometimes are on our highs, sometimes on our lows where we learn the most,” Kosty said when reflecting on the season as a whole. “It’s easy to say getting a win in five against BYU who beat us twice in MPSF conference and then getting them in the semifinals to get to this final. And having Theoren come in and set for us and Luke come in off the bench highly supportive, I think that was a high for the team. And then I go all the way back to playing UBC, Santa Barbara, all of those were [moments] for us in January, which seems such a long time ago. Just the foundation to get us where we are today.”
For the second time in a row, Lui and Rottman were even named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team. This marks the end of an incredible season for the Cardinal.