March 19, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Three words aptly describe the next step for the Stanford men's volleyball team as it heads into the season's stretch run: "Here we go."
Those were the words of Stanford coach John Kosty after the Cardinal's five-set nonconference loss to California Baptist on Saturday night at Burnham Pavilion.
Spencer McLachlin had 24 kills, but was unable to prevent Stanford from losing, 18-25, 28-26, 30-32, 25-21, 16-14, in a matchup between defending national champions.
The Cardinal's season-long five-match winning streak was snapped, but that wasn't the most important aspect of the match for Stanford, which was playing its first match in two weeks because of a break for Dead Week and finals. Rather, Kosty coached the match with the big picture in mind.
Three starters - outside hitters Brad Lawson and Brian Cook, and middle blocker Gus Ellis - did not play at all. Their spots were taken by hitters Garrett Dobbs and Steven Irvin, and middle Denny Falls. Even without Cook, Stanford started three freshmen - Falls, Irvin, and middle Eric Mochalski. It was the first collegiate start for Falls, the first start of the season for Dobbs, and third start for Irvin.
"We need to give an opportunity to some guys who hadn't played yet, to get a good match under their belt heading into the last part of the season," Kosty said. "We're going to have to rely on more than seven guys to reach our goal of winning a national championship. And this went a long way in helping us in that department."
Irvin had a career-high 13 kills (eight was his previous high), but no Stanford player besides McLachlin and his .386 had a hitting percentage above .222. For good reason: Cal Baptist's serving was lethal, especially from NAIA All-American Levi Cabral, who had four aces to go with his 21 kills.
"They've got some really really good servers," Kosty said. "They tested our serve-receive and I think we came out challenged. But I thought we did a good job in that aspect of our game."
Serving played a huge role in a pivotal second-set turnaround. Stanford, having captured the first set, squandered four set points - the last on serving error while holding a 26-25 lead -- and lost on consecutive Cabral aces.
Though Stanford fought back to earn a third-set victory by converting on its seventh set-point situation, the Cardinal was unable to prevent a late fourth-set Cal Baptist run that broke an 18-18 tie.
The final set featured 10 tie scores and three lead changes. The match swung on three kills and a block by Cabral for four of the final five points - overcoming a 13-12 Stanford lead - for the defending NAIA champions.
In all, the match featured 59 tie scores and 16 lead changes.
"They're a talented team with a very good setter, a very good opposite and a well-balanced outside," Kosty said. "It was want we wanted. We would love to have the win, but we got a lot of experience to a lot of guys."
Stanford (14-5) next heads into a stretch of four consecutive home matches in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. The Cardinal is second (11-4) in the MPSF - three matches behind first-place USC (14-1) with seven to play, including a showdown with the Trojans.
Here we go, indeed.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics