Jan. 6, 2004
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STANFORD, Calif - The Stanford men's volleyball team opens its 2004 season at Division III UC Santa Cruz tonight before participating in the 40th Annual UCSB/Elephant Bar Collegiate Invitational this weekend. The Cardinal started the 2003 season with a three-game (30-18, 30-19, 30-24) sweep of the Banana Slugs at Stanford. The Cardinal will be the No. 8 seed in the UCSB tournament and will take on No. 1 seeded Long Beach State in the first round of the tournament on January 9th at 7:00 pm. Stanford will then play again at 10:00 a.m. in either the championship or consolation semifinals and will conclude tournament play with another match Saturday evening. Last season, the Cardinal went 1-2 in the tournament to finish in sixth place.
Stanford Men's Volleyball Season Outlook
With the loss of four starters, including two-time All-American Curt Toppel, the Cardinal will have a much different look entering the 2004 season. Stanford Head Coach Don Shaw will have his hands full, needing to replace 75 percent of the team's kills from a season ago.
"Those kills will come from somewhere," said Shaw. "When you look at the contributions from the guys who are returning, from a statistical standpoint, we will be very inexperienced."
With a veteran team in 2003, the Cardinal finished the season with a 17-12 overall record and a 14-8 mark in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, good for fourth place in the conference. Stanford finished the season tied for sixth place in the Final USA Today/AVCA Coaches poll. It marked the 16th time in the last 19 years, and the third consecutive season, that the Cardinal has finished a season ranked in the top 10 in the country. If Stanford is to continue its winning ways, the Cardinal will need some of its younger players to mature quickly.
If there is one position that the Cardinal return experience and depth, it's at the setter position. Juniors Kevin Hansen and Pat Bomhack provide the Cardinal with two quality setters with big game experience.
"If there is one position that you want to return experienced players, it's the setter position," said Shaw. "It's like having a returning quarterback in football so it's a key position to have coming back. It's definitely a good place to start. The question for this team will be who will step up and take on a leadership role and the burden of carrying some of the offense."
Hansen has been the starting setter for the Cardinal the last two seasons and has enjoyed two of the best seasons as a setter in program history. Hansen, who guided the Cardinal to a team hitting percentage of .334 in 2003, will be asked to provide on the court leadership to a young, but talented group in 2004.
The Cardinal will have the opportunity to develop and grow together not only this season, but also for the next few years as the team has no seniors on this year's squad. This year's Stanford team will be comprised of four juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen. Hansen and Bomhack boast the most experience on the team as redshirt juniors, while outside hitter David Vogel and middle blocker Craig Buell round out the junior class. The sophomore class includes, middle blocker Chris Ahlfeldt, outside hitters Nick Manov, Ben Reddy, libero Jeremy Jacobs and middle blocker/outside hitter William Clayton, who rejoins the Cardinal after a two-year hiatus to complete a Mormon mission. Eric Jones, Brian Lindberg and Josh Schwarzapel comprise Stanford's freshman class.
Despite the lack of experience on the Cardinal roster, Shaw is pleased with his teams progression and attitude.
"Despite the lack of experience or any deficiencies that this team may have, it makes up for it with chemistry, its work ethic and its heart. The challenge will be to maintain that throughout the season and to keep improving." said Shaw.
In his two seasons on The Farm, junior Kevin Hansen has established himself as one of the top setters in the country and one of the best in the history of Stanford men's volleyball. Last season, the 6-foot-5 Hansen distributed 1,318 assists, the seventh highest single-season total in program history and earned All-MPSF Honorable Mention honors. Hansen owns two of the top 10 single-season assist totals (1,317 in 2002, 1,318 in 2003) in program history and has already amassed 2,635 assists, good for fourth on the Stanford career list. His 13.05 assists per game average in 2003 ranked 14th in the country. Hansen, who has been named a co-captain for the second straight season, saw action in 101 games. The Newport Beach, CA native played well down the stretch last season, guiding the Cardinal to seven wins in their last nine games. For his efforts, Hansen was rewarded with his second career Molten MPSF Player of the Week honor on April 16.
"Kevin is a great defensive player and he's got a real good head for the game. He is also a great competitor, which I think is his strongest asset."
At 6-foot-9, Bomhack gives the Cardinal an extra dimension from the setter position. Last season, Bomhack played in 33 games and was second on the team in assists with 174 for a 5.27 assists per game average. The Waukesha, WI native should see increased playing time in 2004.
"Pat's size helps us in different areas at the setter position. In the past, he's had some inconsistencies with his setting and blocking, but if he gets hot blocking, he can be a real force for us." said Shaw.
Sophomore Jeremy Jacobs, who is the jack of all trades for the Cardinal, will serve as the team's third setter.
With the departure of three middle blockers from the 2003 team, the Cardinal will rely on returning players Chris Ahlfeldt and Craig Buell.
"We're not very deep at the middle blocker position so hopefully Chris and Craig continue to improve and they stay healthy through out the season." said Shaw. "This season, we need to get our middle blockers involved. We need to be able to pass the ball well and spread out our offense because we don't have a go-to-guy like a Curt Toppel that we had the last four years."
Ahlfeldt, a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Manhattan Beach, CA, had a solid freshman campaign. Last season, Ahlfeldt played in 80 games and led all freshmen on the team in kills with 110, good for sixth most on the team. Ahlfeldt was a force at the net for the Cardinal, ranking second on the team in blocks with 78 (5 solo, 73 block assists).
"Chris is the type of player that does all the little things to help us win," said Shaw. He just goes out there and does his job. He is a quiet player who goes out and works hard. A lot of the time he goes unnoticed, in a good way, because he's out there doing all the right things.
The other returning middle blocker is Buell, a junior who has been hampered by injuries the past couple of years. When the 6-foot-5 Buell has been healthy, he has played well for the Cardinal. Last season, Buell saw action in 49 games and tallied 127 kills, good for fifth most on the team. Buell ranked second on the team in blocks per game (1.00), while his .473 hitting percentage led the team.
"Craig has been bothered by injuries and illnesses the last couple of years, so hopefully he can have a full healthy season. When he's healthy, he's a very athletic player and a real vocal leader for us." said Shaw.
Eric Jones a 6-foot-7 freshman out of Newport Beach, CA could also see time at middle blocker for the Cardinal in 2004.
"Eric has good size but he's missed some time due to injuries so he really hasn't had the opportunity to show what he can do." said Shaw.
Junior David Vogel, the third returning starter from the 2003 season, spent most of his first two seasons at libero, but also saw time at outside hitter. This fall, the 6-foot-3 Vogel has made the transition solely to outside hitter and has excelled. Last season, Vogel led the team in digs with 234. His 2.21 digs per game average ranks as the 10th best single-season average in program history. Being the most experienced outside hitter returning, Shaw will look to Vogel to carry a good portion of the offensive load for the Cardinal in 2004.
"David is probably our best passer. As far as our offense goes, he'll need to be on the court in a primary role because he is one of our better ball control guys. David's strengths are in his defense and his passing, but we'll also need him to hit for a higher percentage than he has in the past." said Shaw.
Sophomore Ben Reddy should also see plenty of action at outside hitter for the Cardinal. Last season, the 6-foot-4 Reddy appeared in 16 games, registering 27 kills on the season for a 1.69 kills per game average. However, Reddy, who recorded a .327 hitting percentage in 2003, will be called upon to be a much more significant contributor this season.
"Ben had a really good fall last season, but then had some tough matches and became a little frustrated. He's a hard worker and as he learns to control his emotions and put past mistakes behind him and focus on the here and now, he'll become a much better player. He's a guy that we must get production from, and with a year under his belt, he is exhibiting more confidence." said Shaw.
Last season, 6-foot-6 sophomore Nick Manov, a highly touted player out of Mount Madonna High School, struggled his freshman year. However, Manov has shown signs of tremendous development, enjoying a solid 2003 fall season and should be a key contributor for the Cardinal in 2004.
"I see Nick continuing to improve. He's gotten stronger and has more of an idea of what to expect on the court. I think he came in last season a little overwhelmed by the level of competition and wasn't quite ready to contribute. With a year of experience, he's developed into the type of player that should significantly contribute more this season." said Shaw.
Freshman Josh Schwarzapel is another player who could see time at outside hitter as well as middle blocker. Schwarzapel, a 6-foot-5 player out of Mira Costa High School in Manhatten Beach, CA, led his school to back-to-back CIF championships in 2001 and 2002 and was also a member of the 2002 Youth National Team.
"Josh is a good all-around player who could see action at any position with the exception of setter. He is a guy that I see being able to help us in many different ways because he is so versatile." said Shaw.
The Cardinal welcome back sophomore William Clayton from a two-year Mormon mission. Clayton, a versatile 6-foot-4 player who can play outside hitter or middle blocker, played as a freshman for the Cardinal in 2001 before taking a two-year hiatus to complete his mission. In 2001, Clayton played in 49 games, registering 64 kills and posting a .365 hitting percentage.
"William is an older sophomore who did play quite a bit as a freshman. He is another versatile player who can play a couple of different positions." said Shaw.
With Vogel making the transition to outside hitter, the Cardinal will look to sophomore Jeremy Jacobs and freshman Brian Lindberg to fill the void. Jacobs, who also serves as the team's third setter, is the leading candidate and adds tremendous versatility to the Cardinal lineup. As a freshman in 2003, the 6-foot-4 Jacobs saw action in 54 games, registering 73 digs on the season for a 1.35 digs per game average.
"Jeremy is a great competitor and he really effects the team in a positive way. He is a very hard worker who can play a number of positions for us. Besides setter and libero, Jeremy made a late fall push for consideration at outside hitter, as well." said Shaw.
Lindberg, a 6-foot freshman out of Thousand Oaks High School, should press Jacobs for playing time at Libero.
"Brian is a very solid player and should challenge for the libero position with Jacobs. He's got a great work ethic, is a very steady passer and defender and we're fortunate that he's here at Stanford." said Shaw.
The Cardinal will again be tested with one of the toughest schedules in the country. Stanford, who plays in the very competitive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), will face perennial national powerhouses in league foes Pepperdine, Hawaii, BYU and UCLA. Last season, 9 of the teams ranked in the final USA Today/AVCA top 15 poll were MPSF schools.
"Playing in the MPSF in men's volleyball, night in and night out, you're seeing a top 10 team. Our schedule is tough. Nothing is going to be easy. The nice thing is, that with this year's schedule, we don't have any big stretches of road games so the travel won't wear us down, which should help."