April 7, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - Moments after Stanford held off two match points and came back to finish Cal State Northridge with a crushing block, Cardinal associate head coach Ken Shibuya laid it all out.
“That was a big moment for our growth,” Shibuya said after Stanford’s dramatic 25-19, 25-21, 22-25, 22-25, 19-17 victory on Saturday at Maples Pavilion. “We haven’t been able to pull out the pressure-packed match when things weren’t going our way.
“This is huge for our confidence.”
A block by Brian Cook and Gus Ellis on match point finished it off for No. 5 Stanford in a pivotal sequence to close out Game Five.
If No. 12 Northridge (11-16, 7-13) had held on, Stanford would have essentially been mired into settling for fifth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. With the victory, there is potential to vault all the way to a No. 2 seed for the eight-team event.
The significance? The chance to play host to a first round match against a team outside the MPSF power axis, as opposed to traveling to a USC, UCLA, BYU, UC Irvine – the top four teams in the national rankings. Stanford also keeps alive the faint possibility of earning a share of the conference regular-season title.
Coach John Kosty take on the big picture was a bit more simplified: “Win our last two matches.”
Those will come next week at home against UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. What Stanford hopes is that something from its victory Saturday will carry over.
Remember, this was a match Stanford was on the way to winning handily. And then Northridge subbed in John Baker and everything changed. Baker went on to have 20 kills from the right side and hit .457.
“He came out on fire,” Ellis said. “I think the setter had a lot of confidence in him and he had a lot of confidence in himself. It gave us someone new to worry about and it took us out of our rhythm.”
Kosty said of Northridge, “They’re just physical guys. They’re never going to back down. They’re going to hit harder and harder and harder. They’re going to test your technique, they’re going to test your defense. They usually don’t give up easy points.
“On our side, I thought we did a good job of staying patient and waiting for our opportunity. We knew Northridge wasn’t going to make a mistake and we knew we needed to make a play. We just had to wait for the right opportunity.”
For Ellis, the key play came with the Matadors ahead 12-11 (they had led 12-10) in the fifth set. That’s when Steven Irvin, who would have 16 kills and 11 digs, popped in an unreturnable service that fell in for an ace.
It came a night after Irvin served a key ace in a three-set victory over Long Beach State that set the tone at the outset of the second set. In this one, the serve wasn’t hit especially hard and died in front of the Northridge libero, who was unable to lift it off the floor.
“For him to have the confidence and maturity to go back there when everything’s on the line, it fired up the rest of the team and gave us the momentum we needed to carry out the victory.”
For most of the match, Cook carried the Cardinal. His 23 kills were three short of his career high of 26, which came in an earlier victory against Northridge.
But in the fifth, Stanford had other heroes. With Northridge serving match point at 14-13 and 15-14, Stanford responded with a Brad Lawson kill and took advantage of a Northridge hitting error on a sequence that was highlighted by a superb dig by Erik Shoji, who had 16 altogether.
Northridge fought off two Stanford match points before a kill by Irvin put Stanford ahead for good.
At 18-17, “Coach Kosty let us know, ‘No. 14’s going to be their guy,’ Ellis said.
Sure enough, Northridge went to Baker, this time lined up on the left side. But his attack smacked directly into the block and went straight down, inside the Northridge side of the net to end the match.
“The rightside blocker (Cook) was set up perfectly,” Ellis said. “I just had to fill in the seam. It ended up being a great result.”
A great result indeed for Stanford, which has won four of five since resuming action after a 22-day break from competition.
“In tough games like that, we have to revert back to our basics and play Stanford volleyball,” said setter Evan Barry, who had 66 assists and two solo blocks. “That’s serving and passing, putting up a good set, and swinging smartly.”
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics