Jan. 5, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -
In its first match since winning the NCAA championship last May, the Stanford men's volleyball team overcame early troubles to beat UC Santa Cruz, 28-26, 25-17, 25-14, on Wednesday night at Burnham Pavilion.
Stanford, ranked No. 4 in the AVCA preseason coaches' poll, trailed in the opening set 19-13 and fought off three set points before rallying to victory on setter Evan Barry's kill off a free ball. The Cardinal got solid performances from freshmen Brian Cook, Steven Irvin and Eric Mochalski to wear down the NCAA Division III Banana Slugs.
What needs to improve?
"A lot of things," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "But it comes down to this: We need to mentally prepare for each match and learn how to focus. The bottom line is it's a long season and we need to continually get court time to prepare for MPSF play."
Before this week, Stanford hadn't practiced for five weeks, because of Dead Week and then finals, and winter break. And the Cardinal still did not have starting outside hitter Spencer McLachlin available until he arrived from his native Hawaii on Wednesday afternoon. He sat out the match so his body could acclimate from the long flight without risk of injury.
Considering the rust and lack of work as a team, perhaps it wasn't surprising that first-team All-America Brad Lawson was stuffed on his first two attacks. The last time he suited up for Stanford he had only one hitting error while hitting .821 in the NCAA final sweep over Penn State on May 8. Though he led Stanford with 11 kills on Wednesday, he hit only .182.
Stanford faced double set point when a UCSC shot appeared to graze off Lawson and out of bounds. But the touch was not seen by the referee, drawing Stanford even at 24-24. Kills by Irvin and Jake Kneller
, who each made their first collegiate starts, down the stretch helped switch the momentum.
Junior reserve Jake Vandermeer entered the match in the third set and immediately served four consecutive points to help give the Cardinal to an insurmountable 21-11 third-set lead.
Earlier, Cook and Mochalski each struck kills in their first collegiate touches.
"That felt good," said Cook, a Santa Cruz native, on his first kill, after a UCSC over-pass. "I got a gift on the first play I was in."
With the sweep, Stanford extended its streak of consecutive sets won to 17, dating back to the first round of the 2010 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. The Cardinal had closed out last year's playoffs by winning 14 consecutive sets, a feat that hadn't been reached since UCLA closed with a 17-0 run in 1993.
"They played well," Kosty said of the freshmen. "The nicest thing I saw was they got over their nerves quickly and started playing some volleyball."
Stanford will need to regroup quickly, because No. 5 BYU arrives for matches Jan. 14-15 in their MPSF openers.
"You've got to get a couple of matches under your belt before you get to MPSF competition," Kosty said. "It doesn't matter how many practices you have. You can't go in cold."
Members of the 'Kostyville' student crowd were on hand, with members arriving in outfits such as a pharoah, Captain America, mutant ninja turtle, astronaut and a World War I flying ace. But they were largely silent in the early going as the team attempted to get in synch.
"We realized that game speed isn't really practice speed," senior middle blocker Max Halvorson said. "But we did a great job coming back after a slow start. We showed a lot of resillience and didn't give up."
Five Stanford players made their collegiate debut, freshmen Irvin (5 kills, 5 digs), Cook (7 kills, 4 digs), Mochalski (3 kills, ace, block, assist), and Denny Falls, as well as redshirt freshman setter Chandler Ka'a'a.
"We have a lot of guys playing for the first time," Vandermeer said. "When you lose players to graduation and have new guys in the lineup, you're going to need a little bit of time to find your rhythm."
Stanford improved to 18-1 in the all-time series and hasn't lost to UCSC since 1981.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics