Jan. 5, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Sometimes it takes a single play to ignite something in a team that could propel it to future success.
For Stanford’s No. 3-ranked men’s volleyball team, it seemed to be a series of plays – some high-flying digs by George Mason – that forced the Cardinal to find another level of intensity that carried it to a 25-18, 23-25, 25-16, 25-18 nonconference victory over the No. 14 Patriots on Saturday at Maples Pavilion.
Stanford (2-0) hadn’t played tentatively exactly, but the Cardinal obviously had been trying to find itself to some degree over the season-opening weekend. A young team full of new starters and working in new combinations will do that. But when faced with losing a set to a George Mason (0-2) team that was making mind-blowing defensive plays, Stanford knew it had to be more creative and simply play harder.
The fact that the Cardinal won going away proved that it could muster the intensity needed to compete when the schedule tilts to the rugged Mountain Pacific Sports Federation next week. It will have to.
Brian Cook took it to heart with an emotionally-charged second set that seemed to lift the Cardinal’s effort across the board. Stanford didn’t win that set, but Cook’s 8-kill, 0-error performance set the tone for the rest of the match, and, one might hope, set a standard for the season.
Cook had 19 kills and hit .500 (three errors in 32 attacks) for a team that finished with a .378 hitting percentage. The Cardinal, apparently chastened from a so-so 1½ sets, finished by hitting .469 over the final two sets, including a one-error .519 in the fourth.
Redshirt sophomore Daniel Tublin, at opposite, had a breakthrough performance in his first collegiate start, coming through with 14 kills, eight digs, and two blocks. On one second-set sequence, Tublin made a lunging dig for a save and then watched as Eric Mochalski and setter James Shaw smothered the return shot for a Stanford point.
“He had a good fall and an even better preseason performance this past week in practice,” Stanford coach John Kosty said. “He earned an opportunity. We’ve got to have diversity on our team. We’ve got to be able to do a lot of different things. Tublin gives us a different dynamic.”
Tublin was part of a starting lineup that returned Mochalski to middle blocker, his position in 2012, but not in Friday’s opener. He responded with nine blocks, as well as three service aces and seven kills, while Stanford tallied 15 blocks and limited the Patriots to a .126 hitting percentage.
“Eric’s just a very good volleyball player,” Kosty said. “It doesn’t matter what position he plays. He understands the game and he’ll impact a match no matter what position he is.”
Stanford freshman Shaw had his first collegiate double-double, with 46 assists and 10 digs, as well as five kills, and four blocks.
“I was just glad to see that our offense was able to rise to the challenge and get the ball to Shaw so he could deliver the offense,” Kosty said.
Stanford will attempt to continue the progress it made against George Mason when it resumes play Friday against UC Santa Cruz. On Saturday, Stanford opens Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play against Pacific. Both will be played at Burnham Pavilion, at 7 p.m.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics