Jan. 26, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - For a coach, a season is a series of decisions. Some pay off, some don't.
But for Stanford men's volleyball coach John Kosty, one such decision appears to be working, and the Cardinal has played its best since it was made.
Saturday's 25-19, 25-17, 25-22 sweep of No. 10 UC Santa Barbara at Maples Pavilion was one such example. So, was the Cardinal's four-set thrashing of No. 4 UCLA on Tuesday, on the heels of a pair of dismal road losses to USC and Pepperdine.
Grant Delgado and Scott Sakaida are best friends. They're members of the same class (2014) and play the same position (libero), and spent much of their collegiate careers waiting patiently behind the same legend (Erik Shoji).
Now, in the post-Shoji era, Kosty has had some decisions to make, not only at libero, but throughout a somewhat untested young lineup. Sakaida got most of the playing time, but the Southland struggles promised some introspection.
Against UCLA, Kosty went with Delgado, the son of former Stanford soccer standout Greg Delgado, who played professionally for a club called the San Francisco Fog. The only teams in a fog since Delgado came on board have been the Cardinal opponents. Counting the final two sets against UCLA and the three against UCSB, Stanford has won by an average of 25-17. In volleyball, those are routs.
Using a two-libero system, Stanford now gets to take advantage of both. Sakaida, a strong passer in addition to his defense, often comes in when the opponent is serving. Delgado, with his vocal approach, most often makes the calls when the Cardinal is serving. On Saturday, Delgado had seven digs and Sakaida five.
"When I get on the court, I just want to run around and bring some energy," Delgado said. "When I'm at the net, I'm just calling out where the hitters are, where the setter is, and making sure I'm communicating to the block.
"I'm vocalizing some tendencies as well, and letting everybody know where the setter is on the other side, whether he's in the front row and has the potential to dump, or back row and can't dump."
Kosty likes that about Delgado.
"We did it because of Grant's energy and play in transition," Kosty said. "And when things really start going hectic, you need someone out there who's loud and vocal and takes control. He's doing that right now.
"Early in the season, you keep trying things and see what's really going to work and what may be potentially a long-term solution. This may be a good solution for our team."
With the victory, Stanford bolted into a tie for second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation - a jump of seven spots in the standings since Tuesday.
The No. 4 Cardinal (6-2 overall, 3-2 MPSF) got 11 kills from Brian Cook while extending its home winning streak to 12. UCSB (3-5, 1-4) has not beaten Stanford at Maples Pavilion since 1988, losing in the building for the 12th consecutive time.
Cook hit .308 and had six digs and four blocks. But it was sophomore middle blocker Spencer Haly, who had his best match. Haly had a career-high eight kills and no errors while hitting .667 in 12 swings. Haly, a season-long starter despite not playing as a freshman, also had four blocks.
"He's playing great," Kosty said. "We have a really strong middle blocking corps right now. They know they have a backup and, if it's not their night, somebody's going to come in and really do a job. It allows them to swing and play with more tenacity and intensity knowing they've got shoulders to rest on."
Is Stanford's recent play the rule, or just a glimpse? The Cardinal will begin to find out when it travels to Hawai'i for matches Friday and Saturday. Either way, the team is far from a finished product, a point that Kosty made clear after Saturday's victory.
"They're starting to find their identity," Kosty said. "That's what teams really look for. What's their playing style? How are they going to conduct themselves? How are they going to compete? They're starting to figure that out, and that's a good sign for where we're headed."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics