Feb. 12, 2011
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STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford's five-set victory over UC Irvine on Saturday wasn't so much a volleyball match as it was a story - twisted in some parts and heroic in others.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, the good parts came at the end.
The Cardinal struggled mightily at times, but righted itself and carried a wave of momentum to a 25-18, 20-25, 24-26, 25-20, 15-11 victory over the No. 8 Anteaters in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation action at Maples Pavilion.
Brad Lawson and Spencer McLachlin combined for 43 kills for No. 4 Stanford (9-3 overall, 6-3 MPSF), which rebounded from a disheartening three-set loss to UC San Diego on Friday by winning the matchup between the past two national champions.
Stanford's path - from .061 hitting in the third set to zero attack errors in the fifth - was mirrored by the play of McLachlin. The senior captain went from one kill and minus-.232 in the third, to 13 kills and .550 in the fourth and fifth.
In short, McLachlin proved to be the difference-maker down the stretch for a team that pulled within one game of first-place USC, Stanford's opponent on Thursday in Los Angeles.
"We all have confidence in Spencer's ability," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "Even if he may be playing poorly at times, we're very confident that we're going to see the true Spencer come through. And we did in the last part of that match."
The match had some indelible images such as the matchup between two of the best hitters in the country, Lawson and UCI's Carson Clark. Lawson won the battle, with 23 kills (.442) to Clark's 15 (.104).But the Anteater got the best of his counterpart with one brutal kill hit with such force that smacked Lawson between the eyes, rocketed off his head and deflected off the scoreboard, knocking off bits and pieces that left a spray of debris on the court.
A dazed Lawson tried to shake it off, but Kosty called timeout to get his hitter back in his right mind. It worked. Stanford was down 2-0 in the fourth set, but regained its bearings with help of a Lawson ace.
With the score 8-8, McLachlin went on a tear - slamming all eight of his kills over Stanford's final 17 points. His solo block of Clark tied the score at 13-13, and his twin block with Gus Ellis on the next point gave the Cardinal a lead it would not relinquish against the Anteaters (6-8, 3-5).
Though Stanford fell behind 2-0 in the fifth, a great save by setter Evan Barry, sprinting to an out of bounds ball on UC Irvine's half, found McLachlin for another kill to bring Stanford even.
Blocks by Brian Cook and Ellis on back-to-back plays, followed by another McLachlin smash helped build the lead to 10-6 and put the match very much in Stanford's control. For as inconsistent as Stanford has played at times, the Cardinal is a solid 3-0 in five-set matches.
"Fifth sets are a lot about team chemistry and that fight and that passion that we've got," libero Erik Shoji said. "I think we're a lot better than other teams like that, and that persists through. We know we need to focus one point at a time and not look ahead."
In addition to his offensive game, Lawson had a career-high 16 digs, a figure that caught Shoji's attention, and perhaps that of San Francisco Giant outfielder Andres Torres, in attendance with a documentary film crew in tow.
"That was incredible," Shoji said of Lawson's defensive effort. "He was definitely in the right places at the right times.
"We definitely pride ourselves on defense. That's Stanford volleyball, trying to dig balls, get it back over the net so they could make an error eventually or we can get a block. So, I think we got back to that tonight, instead of last night, in which we didn't have much of anything."
The turnaround from one night to the next was dramatic, as was the team's performance from one set to the next - perhaps not unusual given that the team has three new starters including two freshmen.
"Those are long-term experience fixes," Kosty said. "You're not going to fix those types of things overnight. It's just going to take a lot of persistence and a lot of practice, and we'll come through those episodes and we'll gain the experience to eliminate them."
Though this chapter was completed, the story has yet to be written. And, given Stanford's performance Saturday night, it's sure to be exciting.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics