March 2, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - This is what the Stanford men's volleyball team needed: A five-set victory against a strong opponent and an unshakable will to win on its homecourt.
The Cardinal can look like a national contender, or something less, depending on the match. But the vital goal is that the team build more consistency - make those contender-like matches the norm, and pull the tough matches out when it's gut-check time.
That's what the Cardinal did Saturday before a season-high home crowd of 1,109 at Maples Pavilion. It beat No. 5 Pepperdine 25-17, 20-25, 25-22, 23-25, 15-13 in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match.
Brian Cook had 24 kills, including five in the fifth set, during which the Cardinal never trailed. A week after a difficult 15-13 fifth-set loss at No. 2 BYU that dropped its record in five-setters to 2-2, Stanford proved something - that when it plays with a multi-faceted attack and with some amazing defense, it's a really good team.
Stanford (11-6 overall, 8-6 MPSF) rode Cook over the final two sets. The junior from Santa Cruz had 13 kills and a .667 hitting percentage in that span and hit .476 overall as Stanford drew within a half-game of the Waves (9-6, 9-6) for fourth place.
But just as impressive was the offensive support from the middles: Eric Mochalski (nine kills) and Denny Falls (eight) combined for 17 kills and a .520 hitting percentage. The combination also worked for 17 kills and .680 in a victory at Cal Baptist on Monday.
The Cardinal extended its Maples winning streak to 12. It also extended its home winning streak over the Waves to six.
Grant Delgado also deserves much of the credit. Delgado has recently taken over the libero role full-time and against the Waves, he showed why, making several spectacular digs among his 12 total.
He made a diving dig off an unblocked Pepperdine attack in the fourth set that led to a Cardinal point, had one pancake save, and put forth another diving effort to keep another point alive that resulted in a Cook kill and inspired Delgado into a high-stepping celebration.
Steven Irvin had 17 kills and had just as many highlights. Moments after a Jake Kneller block, Irvin's ace closed out the first set.
With Stanford holding onto a 23-22 third-set lead, Irvin cranked his arm back ready to fire, and seeing the blockers expect the same, changed his mind in mid-swing to tip the ball over the block and onto the floor to create set point. His kill on a Pepperdine overpass closed out that set as well.
Also worthy of mention was his crosscourt set to Cook, after setter James Shaw was unable to get to the ball, for a Stanford point. And don't forget his fifth-set crusher, never mind the triple block, that put Stanford ahead 7-5.
The Waves drew into an 11-11 tie, but Cook broke it to spark a three-point run that put the Cardinal in control. Pepperdine served long on match point to deliver Stanford a victory.
Shaw had 56 assists and set Stanford to a .349 hitting percentage, but also had a well-timed fingertip block that allowed the ball to drop back onto the Pepperdine side, and a left-handed reverse tip on the opening point of the fifth set, setting the tone for the victory.
Stanford next plays USC on Sunday night at 7 at Maples Pavilion. Stanford, which has lost to the Trojans five consecutive times, needs this one too. And all those new-found qualities will be put to the test once again.