April 14, 2012
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STANFORD, Calif. - No. 5 Stanford produced its best men's volleyball performance of the season on a night when it deeply needed it.
The result was a surprising thrashing of No. 3 UCLA, 25-18, 25-21, 25-18, before a season-high home crowd of 1,730 at Maples Pavilion in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season finale on Saturday night.
With a three-spot difference in seeding for the MPSF tournament hanging in the balance, not to mention homecourt advantage for the first round, Stanford played great team volleyball to vault to the No. 2 seed.
How is that defined? By producing in every phase of the match. A .397 team hitting percentage and 14 blocks tell some of the story, but don't define it.
A better way would have been to see libero Erik Shoji dig two no-block overpass attacks by UCLA. Or to see how setter Evan Barry kept the Bruins' defense guessing by diversifying the Cardinal offense to such an extent that three Cardinal players hit double-digits in kills.
"We're getting the focus, the confidence, and we're now being able to put our talents on the floor," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "It's pretty exciting to see right now."
Stanford (20-6 overall, 17-5 MPSF) will play host to No. 7 seed Pepperdine (14-14, 9-13) on Saturday in a 7 p.m. match at Maples Pavilion in a MPSF tournament opener.
"We're a senior-laden team," Kosty said. "Our seniors have been through this process before. They've actually been through this process on both sides. They understand how much work it takes from this point on. They've learned by their mistakes, and my expectation is they're really going to work hard this week to mentally and physically prepare to play Pepperdine."
The match comes with the Cardinal holding a five-match winning streak. It also comes during a season in which Stanford completed its best conference record since 1997.
Fair to say Stanford is peaking right now?
"You never know," Kosty said. "You do your best to lay out a season so that at the end of the season, you can be fresh, confident, and ready to go. And as things over the season get derailed, the great teams are able to get themselves back on track, refocus, and put their best foot forward. And this team's doing that right now."
Brian Cook had 12 kills, eight blocks, and five digs. Brad Lawson and Steven Irvin each had 11 kills, Gus Ellis was in on eight blocks, and Shoji had 11 digs.
The tone match for the match was set on the match's first two points, when Cook and Eric Mochalski combined on consecutive blocks. Stanford never allowed UCLA to lead in the first set, and the Bruins never had a lead of more than two points over the final two sets either.
Stanford entered the weekend in fifth place, but closed the regular season with five consecutive victories to finish in a three-way tie for second with BYU and UC Irvine, behind USC (18-4). However, Stanford holds tiebreaker advantages over BYU and UC Irvine, having gone a combined 3-1 against those two teams.
The MPSF tournament winner receives the conference's only automatic bid to the four-team NCAA tournament.
Two-time All-America Brad Lawson and sophomore Steven Irvin had 11 kills for the Cardinal while UCLA (22-7, 16-6) had little few answers while dropping to the fifth seed.
Was this the best Stanford has played in 2012?
"We've been coming off some pretty great wins," Kosty said. "Yes, I would have to say yes. We're definitely building going into playoffs and that's something that you want to see out of your team."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics