April 12, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Sometimes it takes a senior when a team needs a leader.
That was the case for the Stanford men's volleyball team on Friday night when it found itself in a deadlock with Cal Baptist in the fifth set of its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match at Maples Pavilion.
The Cardinal had just made up three points to draw even, but needed something more. It was Kneller, the team's lone senior playing in his final weekend at home, who brought that element.
With the score tied, 8-8, Kneller served five consecutive points and, suddenly, the Cardinal was in command of a 25-23, 20-25, 25-16, 23-25, 15-10 victory that secured the sixth seed in next week's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
"He definitely gave us a ton of momentum," opposite hitter Brian Cook said. "You could tell he was in a zone. He was feeling it, just ripping balls."
The driving, looping serves immediately left the Lancer defense scrambling. Though none of Kneller's serves dropped in for an ace, they directly led to the Cardinal's surge. The success seemed like no coincidence, considering Kneller was one night away from his final home match in a career that included the 2010 NCAA championship won in the same building. Kneller is the last link to that team.
"He knows it's his weekend," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "This just shows his true character. He's a winner and he's a great team leader. He can put a team on his back, even from the service line."
Kneller will be honored on Saturday before the Cardinal (15-11 overall, 12-11 MPSF) concludes the regular season against No. 1 BYU in a 7 p.m. match. After that, Stanford will play at No. 3 seed Long Beach State on April 20 in the first round of the MPSF tournament, which determines the conference's automatic berth in the four-team NCAA tournament.
Steven Irvin had a team-high 14 kills and 15 digs to lead No. 8 Stanford, which had three others reach double figures in kills. Cook had 13, Eric Mochalski 12 and Denny Falls had a career-high 10. James Shaw had 49 assists and set the team to a .303 hitting percentage against the Lancers (16-13, 12-11).
The numbers that stand out in the box score are those of the two middles, Mochalski and Falls.
"We needed a strong middle attack tonight," Kosty said. "And Shaw did a good job to continually set there."
The Cardinal followed a similar plan to its Feb. 25 four-set victory over Cal Baptist, when Falls and Mochalski combined for 17 kills and a .680 hitting percentage. This time, they combined for 22 kills and a .526 hitting percentage.
"We passed really well," Cook said. "That was definitely the key."
One such pass resulted in the go-ahead point. Stanford trailed 7-4 in the fifth set before an Irvin kill sparked a three-point rally to tie the score. At 8-8, Kneller entered and, in the mad action taking place on both sides of the net during the rally, Cook found himself running toward the sideline while making a backward, no-look, cross-court set to Irvin, who pounded the ball into the ground to put the Cardinal ahead for good.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics