Jan. 12, 2005
With ten returning letter winners, including third team All-American setter Kevin Hansen, the Cardinal will be an experienced and cohesive unit entering the 2005 season. The Cardinal finished with a record of 9-18 overall and 6-16 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation posting a ranking of 15th overall in the final USA Today/AVCA Coaches Poll.
The Cardinal are eager to improve upon last year's mark after nearly making the post-season in 2004. "Despite last season's lack of experience, we were still just one win away from going to the playoffs. The guys remember that, and have worked hard in the off-season," explains Don Shaw, now in his sixth season as head coach and 25th overall at Stanford.
Shaw is optimistic about a team that features three seniors providing its leadership. The player with the most experience is fifth-year senior setter, Kevin Hansen. In his fourth year as the team's starting setter, Hansen is putting together one of the finest careers in Stanford history. David Vogel and Craig Buell, round out the senior class, providing the majority of the returning offense. The trio of Buell, Hansen and Vogel are experienced veterans who also provided leadership during their junior seasons in 2004.
The junior class includes middle blocker Chris Ahlfeldt, outside hitters Nick Manov, Ben Reddy, William Clayton, and backup setter Jeremy Jacobs. Returning sophomores include libero Brian Lindberg and outside hitter Josh Schwarzapel. Redshirt freshman Eric Jones returns, while newcomers Matt Ceran, Jesse Meredith, Brian Skinner, and Matt Wahl round out the freshman class. "Everyone that we have coming back has had significant playing time, which is a real difference from the previous year," explains Shaw. With the return of several key contributors from 2004, the Cardinal look to contend in the highly competitive MPSF conference. With the Cardinal playing 22 conference matches there is little room for error during the season. The MPSF conference features eight of the top ten teams in the country from a year ago, giving Stanford one of the nation's most difficult schedules. "As an athlete and a coach you want to play the best teams, night in and night out. Our guys are hungry for the challenge," says Shaw.
In his three seasons on The Farm, fifth-year senior Kevin Hansen has established himself as one of the top setters in the country and one of the best in the history of Stanford men's volleyball. Last season, Hansen was named third team All-American after posting 1,169 assists.
Hansen owns two of the top ten single-season assist totals (1,317 in 2002 and 1,318 in 2003) in program history and has already amassed 3,804 assists, good for fourth on the Stanford career list. His 12.89 assists per game ranks ninth on Stanford's career list. During the 2004 season, Hansen was named Molten/MPSF Player of the Week (Jan 22.) after a combined 101 assists and 19 digs in upset victories against UCLA and UC Irvine. "Hansen is thought of as one of the best setters in the country and is a definite candidate for post-season honors," says Shaw.
Backing up Hansen at setter is Jeremy Jacobs, who brings experience from several positions on the floor. The primary libero from last season's team, Jacobs also has playing experience at outside hitter and at setter. The 6-foot-4 junior was ranked third on the team with 151 digs after settling in at libero in 2004. "The key role of the backup setter has to do a lot with practice. Jeremy runs the second team. He's improving every day and he affects the team in a positive way," says Shaw.
When you talk about the most durable players on the team, the focus shines on the middle blocking duo of Chris Ahlfeldt and Craig Buell. The leaders in games played in 2004 at 102 and 99 games, respectively, will again be required to carry the load at middle blocker. The 2004 season was the first opportunity for Ahlfeldt and Buell to gain significant playing experience after playing reserve roles in previous years. Ahlfeldt's 79 blocks (13 solo, 66 block assists) were second only to Buell, who recorded 87 blocks (15 solo, 72 block assists). Offensively, Ahlfeldt posted an attacking percentage of .294 which ranked third, while Buell ranked second, hitting .353. "It's an asset to have a couple of guys like them with a year of experience under their belts," says Shaw.
Eric Jones has the size and ability to demand playing time at the middle blocker position. After a year of practicing with the team in 2004, the 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman is expected to see some valuable playing time. "With his size, if he continues to develop he will be a key contributor inside," says Shaw.
Senior David Vogel will anchor a unit of outside hitters that will be greatly relied upon to produce offense this season. A very multi-talented returning starter, Vogel spent his first two seasons at libero while coupling as an outside hitter. Vogel excelled after making the transition to a full-time outside hitter, leading the team with 289 kills. Vogel is also integral defensively, ranking second in digs (166) and digs per game (1.75). His 2.21 digs per game average in 2002 ranks as the 10th best single-season average in Stanford men's volleyball history. "He's critical in serve reception and probably our best passer. We'll also need him to continue to hit well in order for us to be successful as a team," says Shaw.
Juniors William Clayton and Ben Reddy are expected to compete for the remaining spot at outside hitter. Clayton adjusted well after returning from a two-year hiatus to complete a Mormon mission, registering 113 kills in 62 games. "Clayton has been getting stronger and hitting the ball a lot harder this year. He's feeling more comfortable out there after having a year to adjust from his two years off," says Shaw.
Reddy provided offense in 2004, ranking second on the team with 2.99 kills per game and totaling 215 kills. Reddy's attacking percentage of .254 ranked fourth on the team. His offensive production last season has garnered high expectations for his play in 2005. "With some developed consistency, Ben has the ability to be a really good outside hitter," explains Shaw.
Nick Manov returns with the most experience from the opposite hitter position. After splitting time in 2004, the 6-foot-6 junior assumes the offensive responsibility of the position. In 52 games, Manov recorded 95 kills and 46 digs. "Nick did a good job stepping in last year and has shown improvement with experience," says Shaw.
Freshman Matt Ceran will challenge him for playing time at opposite. "He jumps well, he's quick, and has decent size. He has the potential to be a special player as he learns how to play the college game," says Shaw.
When speaking of the libero position, Shaw explains "he has to be an unselfish player. You are going to be passing and digging and that is about it." Sophomore Brian Lindberg will hold the position, after splitting time last year where he posted 25 digs in 62 games. Lindberg will be called upon primarily for his defensive skill and will serve as the starter.
Freshmen Brian Skinner and Jesse Meredith will also practice at libero. "The freshmen will be very valuable in practice, until they develop added strength and a better knowledge of the college game," says Shaw.