Feb. 24, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - A funny thing happened on the way to an offensive shootout. Gus Ellis and Erik Shoji took over.
That settled it. What began as all-offense-all-the-time explosion in the first set turned into a display of defensive dominance in No. 1 Stanford's conference home opening 25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-18 men's volleyball victory over No. 10 Pepperdine on Friday night.
Before a season-high home crowd of 1,186 who welcomed back the Cardinal after 40 days and 10 matches away, Stanford pulled into a tie for first with UCLA in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, with 9-1 records.
Four players had double-figure kill totals for Stanford (12-2), led by Brad Lawson's 14 and Brian Cook's 13. Sophomores Eric Mochalski and Steven Irvin had 10 each as Stanford hit .394 as a team.
But that percentage was dwarfed by the .692 with one error that Stanford hit in the first set alone. Pepperdine (7-6, 5-5) nearly matched it with .524 and only two errors.
"Sometimes when you scout your opponent, you see things on videotape that really aren't true in real life," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "That first game was more figuring out a little bit better strategies."
Suddenly, everything changed. Stanford's block grew out of nothing and began to establish itself on the Waves' hitters. The result wasn't immediately apparent, even with 5.5 blocks in a losing second set, but the Cardinal was relentless, with 5.5 more in a dominant third and 15 in the match.
Ellis had nine blocks, including two solo, lifting the team with his energy.
"When you get a big play like that, it definitely helps your momentum," said Mochalski, who had five blocks of his own. "And when Gus gets into his low squat after a great block, everyone on the team can't help but smile."
Of course, blocking was only part of the defensive equation. Erik Shoji, the three-time All-America first-team libero, was inevitably a big part as well.
Shoji had six digs, but all seemed to spectacular in quality, stifling scorching attacks when no one expected anyone to stop them. Upon impact, the ball always seemed to float precisely to setter Evan Barry, who had 47 assists.
"He's just grown up on volleyball," Kosty said."And when you grow up on volleyball you get these instincts that he has -- and not a lot of people have them. He has the ability to read hitters, to expect the unexpected, and what seem like great plays to him are just routine."
Said Mochalski, "All these plays are unbelievable, but it's just another day at the office for Erik Shoji. In practice, he has all those kinds of plays too."
The Shoji Show continues Saturday night against USC at Maples Pavilion at 7 p.m. Stanford can move into sole possession of the MPSF lead with a victory over the No. 6 Trojans.
But what will it be? Will offense or defense win the match? Fortunately for Stanford, on one night at least, the Cardinal proved it can win both ways.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics