April 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES - There were moments Saturday when the Stanford men’s volleyball team seemed to be a team of destiny.
How else to explain one sequence where the Cardinal blocked four consecutive UC Irvine attacks before putting the point away for itself? Or, when Stanford setter Evan Barry ran to Anteaters’ side of the net to save a ball over the head of the official to set up another Cardinal tally?
But destiny apparently exists only in clichés and fairytales, and not on the Galen Center court. Stanford, leading two sets to zero in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament final, was overtaken by the Anteaters, 20-25, 25-27, 25-21, 25-21, 15-12, jeopardizing Stanford’s NCAA tournament hopes.
UCI joins other tournament champions Lewis, of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, and Penn State, of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association as automatic qualifiers into the four-team NCAA tournament, May 3-5 at the Galen Center.
Stanford (22-7) hopes for the sole at-large spot, which will be decided Sunday, but does so without certainty or confidence.
“The seniors gave everything they had to this program,” Stanford coach John Kosty said. “We acknowledged the seniors afterward.
“That’s the hard part. You don’t want to put a finality to it, because there is a chance. But we had our shot to take care of it ourselves and we weren’t able to do it.”
Senior outside hitter Brad Lawson had 23 kills and 11 digs, and sophomores Brian Cook (13 kills, 12 digs) and Steven Irvin (18 kills) combined for 21 more. Four-time first-team All-America Erik Shoji had 12 digs.
Lawson and Shoji both made the MPSF All-Tournament team.
UCI (24-7) got 24 kills, 13 digs and five blocks from Kevin Tillie and 19 kills from Carson Clark.
Though Stanford had a .440 hitting percentage over the final two sets, there was no mistaking that UCI had thrown the Cardinal off its game, and rallied to victory. For the Anteaters, it was the second consecutive match in which they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win, having done so against No. 1-ranked USC in the semifinals Thursday.
“For our players to have the emotional energy to do it again for the second straight match is amazing to me,” said UC Irvine head coach John Speraw.
“Give credit to UC Irvine, they did it twice this week,” Kosty said. “Their passing came around and they settled in. You could feel the tide change. We kept battling and we had good opportunities in the fifth set, but the ball didn’t bounce our way.”
The result also snapped a six-match winning streak for Stanford, which had finished the regular-season with its best conference record (17-5) since 1997 and reached its third MPSF final in its 20 years in the conference.
“We had an opportunity to win on our own terms,” Kosty said. “Now, it’s in the committee’s hands.”
All-tournament team: Carson Clark (UC Irvine), MVP; Brad Lawson (Stanford), Erik Shoji (Stanford), Tony Ciarelli (USC), Dan McDonnell (UCI), Taylor Sander (BYU), Kevin Tillie (UCI).