Opening Weekend Preview | Schedule
Jan. 4, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - The Stanford men's volleyball team is highly ranked and regarded highly, but coach John Kosty said the team's true potential may not be unlocked until late in the season.
The Cardinal, ranked No. 3 in the AVCA NCAA Division I-II Preseason Coaches' Poll, has three frontline veterans and all-conference players, but only eight with any collegiate match experience. A lot of responsibility will be placed on freshmen and first-year starters.
Kosty hopes the developmental soup will be ready for tasting come playoff time.
"We're a team that will consistently get better as we go through the season," said Kosty, who begins his seventh season as head coach and 23rd on the coaching staff. "We have all the pieces here to build experience and put ourselves in a position to be successful in the postseason."
The Cardinal, which opens Friday with a 7 p.m. match against Grand Canyon at Maples Pavilion, will have a different look without the likes of 2012's seven seniors that became the winningest class in school history. That group included four-time first-team All-America Erik Shoji, the "greatest libero in collegiate volleyball history," Kosty said, as well as three-time first-team All-America hitter Brad Lawson, second-team All-America setter Evan Barry, and four-year starting middle Gus Ellis.
The faces of the program are now largely from the junior class, which could have five members in the starting lineup, including three three-year starters.
Brian Cook established himself as one of the top hitters in the rugged Mountain Pacific Sports Federation last season, helping the Cardinal to a 22-7 overall record and 17-5 mark in conference play, good for a second-place regular season finish and MPSF tournament final appearance.
Cook's consistency took some of the load off Lawson, while Irvin served as the No. 3 hitting option most nights. Now, Irvin will be asked to help shoulder the load.
"Brian Cook is poised to have a tremendous year," Kosty said. "And Steven Irvin will be expected to have a more significant role."
Mochalski, at middle, already has set Stanford match and season records for hitting percentage. His career percentage of .457 would be another record if his career was complete. Kosty calls him "one of the most dynamic players in the MPSF."
Fellow junior Denny Falls, a spot starter his first two seasons, may step into the other starting middle spot. But he'll have to fight off sophomores Matt Aiello, Spencer Haly, and Sean Kemper, as well as freshmen Conrad Kaminski and Alex Stephanus.
Kaminski and Stephanus are part of a strong six-member freshmen class that is expected to make an impact right away, especially at the setter position where James Shaw, a member of the U.S. junior national team, and Joe Ctvrtlik play. Both Shaw and Ctvrtlik are known as much for their lineage as their own ability - Shaw's father Don coached Stanford to --- NCAA women's volleyball titles and Joe's father Bob was an Olympic gold medalist and one of the world's best players - but that will began to change as each excels in the collegiate realm.
"Both have the capacity to run this team," Kosty said, "and to make an impact in this league."
Though Cook and Irvin are entrenched at outside hitter, the team's lone senior, Jake Kneller, is expected to expand his role. The only player left from Stanford's 2010 NCAA championship team and perhaps the team's hardest hitter, Kneller will help more frequently in the attack after spending much of his career as a serving specialist.
"Jake has really upped his game and will play a key role in our success," Kosty said.
Redshirt junior Daniel Tublin and freshmen Madison Hayden, last season's high school player of the year for volleyball-rich Orange County, and Gabriel Vega and sophomore Eric Arriaga add to a deep talent pool at outside hitter.
Replacing Shoji at libero seems akin to succeeding Andrew Luck at quarterback, but that is the task facing junior Scott Sakaida, who settles into the spot, with classmate Grant Delgado also contending for playing time.
The MPSF, perhaps the most dominant conference in any sport in the country, will again be brutal. Defending NCAA champion UC Irvine is the unanimous preseason No. 1 and BYU is regarded as a solid No. 2 heading into the season.
Where does Stanford fit in?
"There are a lot of teams in that third spot right now," Kosty said. "We'll be battling for position in what should be a really balanced conference."
Stanford is coming off five consecutive winning seasons, and finished among the nation's top 10 each of those seasons. The key, Kosty said, will be gaining experience, which is why Stanford may be difficult to predict. If all goes well, the Cardinal could surprise as the national title picture takes shape.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics