Jan. 8, 2001
First Serve 2001
The Stanford men's volleyball team is set to open its 2001 season with three home matches this week at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal, ranked No. 5 in the Volleyball Magazine preseason poll, will host D'Youville on Tuesday, Arizona on Friday and Ball State on Sunday. Head coach Ruben Nieves, entering his eleventh season at the helm, returns 10 letterwinners return from the 2000 squad that finished No. 11 in the country.
The Nieves File
Ruben Nieves begins his eleventh season as Stanford's head coach. The winningest coach in program history, he has amassed a 163-70 (.699) record on the Farm, including a 121-63 (.658) mark in MPSF play. In 1997, he guided the Cardinal to a 27-3 record and the NCAA championship en route to being named Volleyball Magazine and AVCA National Coach of the Year. A two-year letterwinner at Stanford in1979-80, Nieves previously served as an assistant under former Cardinal head man Fred Sturm from 1987 to 1990.
Stanford will open the 2001 season with a three-match homestand and will play four of its first five contests at Maples Pavilion. The three-game stand is the second-longest of the season, as the Cardinal will close out the campaign with a six-match set from April 2-13. Last year - Stanford's first in Maples Pavilion - the Cardinal finished with a 6-4 home mark, including a five-game upset victory over then-No. 1 Long Beach State.
Following a Feb. 23 home match against USC, Stanford hits the road and will not return until April 2. The Cardinal will spend the entire month of March on the road, visiting Hawaii, UCLA, UC Irvine, La Verne and Long Beach State. Stanford struggled away from Maples Pavilion in 2000, finishing 4-8 in its away matches.
Stanford will certainly be battle-tested entering the MPSF Playoffs, as the Cardinal will play 13 matches against teams that finished 2000 ranked in the top 15 nationally according to the USA Today/AVCA poll. Included on Stanford's 25-game docket are matches against defending national champion UCLA (twice), perennial power Pepperdine (twice), and regional foes Arizona, Long Beach State (twice) and UC Santa Barbara (twice).
NCAA men's volleyball will have a different look in 2001 as three new rules come into play: rally scoring to 30, let serve and the international pursuit rule. Rather than the traditional, side-out scoring (in which a team can score only on its serve) to 15, games will now be played using rally scoring to 30. In this method, a team scores a point each time it records a sideout, regardless of serve. A team must still win by two, and the match is still the best three out of five games. With the let serve rule, if a serve hits the net and deflects onto the opponents' side, the ball is in play. The international pursuit rule is in effect if a team's first touch goes out of bounds on the opponent's side, as a player is allowed to cross over and return the ball to his side. Also, the libero - a back-row defensive specialist - enters its second year.
Stanford will once again compete in one of the premier collegiate men's volleyball conferences - the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The MPSF is divided into a pair of six-team divisions, with the Cardinal joining Hawaii, Long Beach State, Pacific, UC San Diego and USC in the Pacific Division. The Mountain Division is composed of BYU, Cal State Northridge, Pepperdine, UC Irvine, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. In all, nine of the 12 squads finished 2000 ranked in the top 15, while a tenth team received votes. Loyola Marymount and San Diego State, both of which were MPSF members last year, are not sponsoring men's volleyball in 2001. The conference season includes 17 matches, with each team playing against members in the opposite division twice and the teams in its division once.
Setting the Table
The setter position has been a strong point of Stanford men's volleyball in recent years, and that trend should continue in 2001. The Cardinal return a pair of outstanding senior setters in Josh Lukens, who led the nation last year with a school-record 20.07 assists per game, and redshirt Brad Griffith. Lukens, a three-year starter, developed into one of the nation's top setters in 2000, compiling 1,646 assists - third best in Stanford history - while reaching the 100-assist plateau in a match three times. Griffith is healthy following a knee injury that forced him to redshirt the 2000 season, and looks to be back to the form which saw him record 688 assists in 70 games as a junior. A member of the 1997 U.S. Junior National Team, Griffith boasts the 10th-best assists-per-game mark in Cardinal history at 10.44. While Lukens and Griffith are established veterans, they should be pushed by a pair of freshman - two-time U.S. Youth National Team player Patrick Bomhack and 2000 Junior National MVP Kevin Hansen.
For a team that hopes to emphasize its defensive play, the middle blocker position will play a crucial role. Stanford returns a nice mix of old and young with senior Brett Youngberg, sophomores Paul Bocage and Kyle Strache and newcomers Billy Clayton and Robert Owens. Youngberg appeared in 20 matches in 2000, posting a team-high 71 total blocks with 3.27 kills per game. As a freshman, Bocage saw action in 14 matches and averaged a team-best 1.19 blocks per game to complement a .331 hitting percentage. Strache also had a solid rookie season, showing promise on the offensive end with a 20-kill performance against Pepperdine while ranking third on the team with 60 total blocks. At 6-4, Clayton is the shortest of the middle blockers, however, at 11-3, he is one of the best leapers on the squad. Owens is somewhat of an unknown quantity. A native of Warwick, England, Owens was a basketball and fencing star in high school and is a member of Stanford's sabre squad.
Stanford began the 2000 campaign with outside hitter as a question mark, but found the answer for years to come in MPSF Freshman of the Year and second team All-American Curt Toppel. The 6-8 Toppel turned in perhaps the finest season ever by a Cardinal player at that position, tallying 30 or more kills 11 times while leading the nation with an AVCA and Stanford-record 8.65 kills per game. Toppel is not Stanford's only weapon, however, as the Cardinal boasts a deep and talented corps of outside hitters including junior Marcus Skacel and sophomores William Curtis, Seth Ring and Billy Strickland. Skacel gives the Cardinal a force on both the offensive and defensive end, finishing second on the team in kills (355) and kills per game (4.55) while ranking 20th in the country with 2.32 digs per game. After redshirting as a true freshman, Ring emerged last year as a consistent player on both ends, tallying 85 kills, 20 total blocks and 142 digs. Strickland and Curtis both came on strong in the second half of 2000, as Strickland finished the campaign with a double-double (13 kills, 10 digs) at Pepperdine while Curtis tallied two-thirds of his kills in MPSF play.