April 24, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. - Evan Romero had 24 kills and Brad Lawson 21 to lead No. 1 Stanford past defending NCAA champion UC Irvine, 30-26, 28-30, 30-25, 30-27, in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball tournament, before 1,175 at Maples Pavilion on Saturday night.
Stanford (20-6), the top seed, earns the right to play host to the MPSF tournament's semifinals and final.
The Cardinal will play No. 5 seed Hawai'i, a five-set winner over Pepperdine, on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the nightcap of a doubleheader that begins with No. 2 seed BYU against No. 3 seed Cal State Northridge at 5 p.m. The winners play Saturday at 7 p.m., with all the matches at Maples Pavilion.
The tournament champion earns the conference's automatic berth to the four-team NCAA tournament, to be held at Maples on May 6 and 8. The top nine ranked teams in the country all are from the MPSF.
The postseason victory was the first for Stanford since it won the NCAA title in 1997, and ended a streak of eight consecutive playoff losses.
Not only that, but the result ended another dubious streak: Stanford hadn't won a postseason match at Maples Pavilion since 1994.
Typical of Stanford's season as a whole, different Cardinal players seemed to carry the team during different stretches. In the fourth set, blocks were crucial in giving Stanford the edge it needed. Back-to-back blocks involving Gus Ellis and Spencer McLachlin pushed Stanford into a 15-11 lead. After No. 7-ranked UCI (15-15) rallied to go ahead 24-23, an Ellis kill followed by a Romero block resulted in the go-ahead points.
"In the fourth game, the middles really played well," Stanford coach John Kosty said of Ellis and Garrett Werner (eight blocks). "They blocked the ball and got the kills and that's exactly what we needed. We needed another something different, and that's what our middle hitters gave us to get us over the hump."
Setter Kawika Shoji
engineered an offense that hit .350, and had 59 assists, 12 digs, eight kills, three blocks and two aces. Shoji's most spectacular play might have been the reverse tip for a point in the third set, or simply his retrievals of hard-to-get-to balls that he turned into pinpoint assists.
Sophomore libero Erik Shoji had 18 digs, and had a spectacular sequence of his own, with an arm stab to stop an uncontested attack, and then to chase a ball later in the same rally and send a backward half-court pass directly to Lawson for a second-set kill.
"For us, it's about our team," Kosty said. "Everybody relies on each other for our success."
Stanford drew a step closer to its first NCAA berth in 13 years, but will need to win its semifinal to virtually assure itself of at least receiving the lone at-large spot. There is no way Stanford, the MPSF champion, would be denied if it reached the MPSF tournament final.
So, what was Kosty's message after Saturday's victory?
"Enjoy the process," he said. "And take one game at a time."