Feb. 24, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. - For Stanford freshman reserve Jake Kneller, serving 10 consecutive points to help finish off UC Santa Cruz in a nonconference men's volleyball match Wednesday night may not have been his most eventful moment on the court this week.
After all, it was only Tuesday when Kneller's vicious crosscourt attack in a team scrimmage smacked All-American libero Erik Shoji flush in the face.
When the last time that's ever happened to the country's best defensive player is anyone's guess. The words "maybe never" come to mind.
But Kneller, who tallied his first four collegiate kills in No. 2 Stanford's 30-19, 30-27, 30-14 victory over UCSC at Maples Pavilion, only added to his reputation as a high-velocity hitter.
"I think I caught him off guard a little," said Kneller, out of Westlake High School in Westlake Village, Calif. "Unfortunately, we didn't film practice that day."
Kneller was one of several Cardinal players who got a chance to shine against the Banana Slugs. Stanford (9-4) substituted freely and had 10 players register kills, though Brad Lawson was the only one in double figures, with 11.
Ian Connolly matched his collegiate career high, with seven kills, and Dylan Kordic had two to establish a personal best. And Jordan Inafuku, starting at libero, had 13 digs, and the team pummeled the Slugs with 13 service aces.
"What we wanted to accomplish was keeping the flow to our offense that we had last weekend (when Stanford hit .402 during a two-match road trip) and extending that heading into the Pacific match Friday," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "And I think we did that."
Stanford hit .309 while earning its second victory of the season over UCSC (9-5), the No. 2-ranked team in NCAA Division III and held the Banana Slugs to .115.
Kosty started Inafuku, and middle blockers Charley Henrikson and Max Halvorson for the first time this season. Inafuku felt the team didn't lose any offensive momentum.
"This team feels pretty confident with everyone on the floor," Inafuku said. "It helps when there's a lot of energy, that allows the communication to come much easier."
Stanford won for the sixth time in its past seven matches and finds itself in fourth place (7-4) in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, with all four within one game of each other in the standings.
"We're happy where we are," said Inafuku, whose team suffered its only recent loss via sweep at current No. 1 Pepperdine on Friday. "But we know Pepperdine set the bar and we have more work to do. We're in a good place to be, and we're happy what we're doing, but we're hungry for more."
Kneller has embodied that attitude by trying to learn as much as he can from the veteran hitters on the team. Though he enters play mostly for his serving, he is determined not to waste any time despite watching mostly from the bench.
"It's harder when you just come in as a serving specialist," Kneller said. "Mentally, you have to stay in the game, and there's less pressure on your serving when you're asked to do other things too.
"Tonight, coach Mac (Chris McLachlin) just said, `Stop thinking and just play.'"
Kneller had two earlier service errors, but reeled off three consecutive aces and four altogether during a 10-point service run that enabled Stanford to stretch its third-period lead to 24-8.
His job in the meantime, as he sees it, is to pay attention to players to teammates like Evan Romero, Spencer McLachlin and Lawson. Watch how they conduct themselves, how they prepare and how they play.
"I'm just taking it all in," he said.
The Cardinal returns to MPSF action on Friday in Stockton when it takes on Pacific at 7 p.m.