Jan. 10, 2012
STOCKTON, Calif. -
No. 4 Stanford opens its season at No. 15 Pacific (2-0) in a matchup between Northern California's only two Division I men's volleyball programs, on Wednesday at the Spanos Center. The match opens play for both teams in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, a conference so strong that 11 of its 12 teams are ranked in the AVCA Top 15.
The Cardinal follows with a weekend at Maples Pavilion, beginning with an opening night match against Juniata (0-0), an NCAA Division III program from Huntingdon, Pa., on Friday. On Saturday, Stanford plays host to No. 14 Loyola-Chicago (0-3). Both matches are at 7 p.m.
Home matches are free.
Wednesday: No. 4 Stanford (0-0) at No. 15 Pacific (2-0), 7 p.m.
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Friday: Juniata (0-0) at Stanford, at Maples Pavilion, 7 p.m.
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Saturday: No. 14 Loyola-Chicago (0-3) at Stanford, at Maples Pavilion, 7 p.m.
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Where we left off: Stanford finished third in the MPSF to earn the right to play host to No. 6 seed Long Beach State in the opening round of the conference tournament. However, the 49ers pulled off a five-set victory and proved to be Stanford's nemesis, winning all three matchups and ending the Cardinal's quest to repeat as MPSF and NCAA champions. The Cardinal (19-9) earned a final AVCA ranking of No. 7, to earn its fifth consecutive Top 10 finish.
Stanford returns six of its seven starters (including libero) and 13 letterwinners, losing five. Among the returnees are first-team All-Americans Brad Lawson
(outside hitter) and Erik Shoji
(libero), both seniors. Lawson, the MPSF Player of the Year in 2010, has won two first-team honors and Shoji three. Shoji has a chance to become the first Stanford player to win four first-team honors. The Cardinal also returns a third starter from its 2010 NCAA championship team, middle blocker Gus Ellis
, another senior.
Wednesday's Opponent, Pacific: The Tigers are on the rise after a miserable stretch from 2008-10 in which they lost 57 consecutive MPSF matches. However, Pacific returned to the rankings last season and went 5-17 in conference play - the most MPSF victories for the program since 2007. Libero Javier Caceres and middle blocker Taylor Hughes return from All-MPSF honorable mention seasons. Pacific opened with a pair of sweeps over visiting Grand Canyon, with Hughes leading the way with 30 combined kills.
Friday's Opponent, Juniata: Stanford associate head coach Ken Shibuya took over the Juniata program in 2002 and led the Eagles to three consecutive Molten Division III Invitational national titles (2004-2006). Shibuya coached two national players of the year and was named AVCA Division III Coach of the Year in 2004. Current coach Kevin Moore played at Juniata, but in the pre-Shibuya era. However, he has gotten to know Shibuya by coaching alongside him at USA Volleyball High Performance camps. The Eagles, who finished No. 5 in the 2011 AVCA Division III rankings, open Wednesday at Hope International.
Saturday's Opponent, Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers (0-3 in 2012; 21-8 in 2011) are regarded as a strong contender to dethrone defending national champion Ohio State in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. The No. 14 Ramblers opened the season with losses against three teams in the current top 11 -- Long Beach State, BYU, and Cal State Northridge - at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational.
The Ramblers have remained on the West Coast to play UC San Diego, Pacific, and Stanford in a four-day stretch. Stanford has won both meetings between the schools, winning in five sets during its 1997 national championship season and winning in four last year in Chicago, ending the Ramblers' 21-match winning streak at Alumni Gym. Loyola is led by senior outside hitter Mike Bunting, a 2011 AVCA second-team All-America, who didn't play on Saturday in the Ramblers' final match at UCSB.