April 6, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford is playing great volleyball. But where will that get the Cardinal?
Following a superb defensive and passing effort in a 25-13, 25-16, 25-18 rout of No. 8 Long Beach State on Friday night at Maples Pavilion, the No. 5 Cardinal can accomplish much with a strong finish, even if it seems unlikely it will result in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title or No. 1 tournament seed.
Brian Cook and Brad Lawson had 14 kills apiece to lead the Cardinal, who remain in fifth place – at least for now – despite winning for the third time in four matches since resuming its season after a 22-day break from competition.
If Stanford (17-6, 14-5) finishes among the top four, it would play host to at least one MPSF tournament match. And, if the No. 5 Stanford wins out, it could realistically hope to earn as high as a No. 2 seed.
“We need to take care of business every day,” Stanford coach John Kosty said. “How the cards lay out … well … we dealt our own hand. We just need to take care of ourselves and see where we end up.”
Friday’s sweep that took only 1 hour, 18 minutes to complete against a team that beat the Cardinal in all three meetings last year and took Stanford to five sets earlier this season.
Long Beach (13-13, 8-11) kept its starting setter out of the lineup during the first set and the 49ers never seemed to recover, even after bringing Connor Olbright back in for the second set.
A service ace by Steven Irvin to open the second seemed to resonate with the Cardinal.
“That really set the tone for us,” Kosty said.
Stanford limited the 49ers to a hitting percentage of .098, with only 27 kills in 92 swings. It was the lowest hitting percentage allowed by the Cardinal this season, and a good reason for that was the play of Erik Shoji
Shoji, the All-America libero, had a season-high 17 digs, the second-highest highest for a three-set match in school history during the rally-scoring era (since 2001). The record is 23, also held by Shoji, Stanford’s career digs leader.
A Stanford run of victories, which it seeks to continue with a match against No. 12 Cal State Northridge on Saturday night at Maples, would make for some contentiousness in the rugged and balanced MPSF.
“We’re all looking for a Santa Barbara-type run from last year,” Shoji said. “We know we’re capable for anyone to come out play well and beat any team, so we’re trying to do that every night as we point toward the playoffs.”
Shoji’s reference was to UC Santa Barbara, a team which went from seventh to the NCAA final last season.
One difference? Stanford is only two games out of first and is guaranteed a better starting position than the Gauchos had.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics