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Jan. 13, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -
Cardinal Moves Up Four Spots in National Rankings
Stanford's runner-up finish at the UCSB/Elephant Bar Restaurant Collegiate Invitational last weekend was impressive enough to cause a jump from No. 8 to No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings released Monday. The Cardinal swept No. 9 BYU on Friday to open the event and beat No. 4 Long Beach State that evening, in a four-set semifinal. The Cardinal finished with a four-set loss to No. 5 Cal State Northridge in the final.
Stanford's results, combined with a pair of losses by No. 2 UCLA in the tournament, created a shakeup of the rankings. Though Penn State remained No. 1, the top five now follows with No. 2 Cal State Northridge (formerly No. 5), No. 3 Pepperdine (same), No. 4 Stanford (formerly No. 8), and No. 5 UC Irvine (No. 6).
The Cardinal faces an unusual week in which it plays its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener at Pacific on Wednesday, and then leaves for the frigid Midwest to take on two ranked teams, No. 14 Ohio State on Friday and No. 13 Ball State on Saturday. Stanford doesn't resume MPSF play for another week, with a Southern California trip to play USC and Pepperdine.
This week's trip coincides with a Midwestern cold spell, which will be in contrast to Stanford's recent weather of sunny days and temperatures in the 70s. Good thing they play indoors, because Friday's forecast for Columbus, Ohio, is: "Highs around 10 above. Lows around zero. Wind chill values as low as 20 below," according to weatherbug.com.
Saturday in Muncie, Ind., should be relatively balmy. The forecast: "Lows around 13. Highs in the mid 20s."
Beware of Pacific
Stanford needs no reminding of this, having been swept at home by the Tigers last Jan. 30. It was the Tigers' only conference victory in a 1-21 MPSF campaign, but it was no fluke. Pacific gave visiting Stanford all it could handle the next time they played, in the Cardinal's five-set victory Feb. 15.
Pacific is 1-3 overall after an 0-3 performance at the UCSB tournament. The Tigers took UC Santa Barbara to four sets, before being swept by UCLA and BYU. Pacific returns three starters and eight letterwinners from last season's 4-24 team.
Ohio State Looks to Bounce Back
The Buckeyes have played Stanford eight times over the years, though not since 1998. Stanford holds a 7-1 series lead and has won their past six meetings.
No. 13 Ohio State (0-3) opened the season with a difficult opening series at the Outrigger Hotels Invitational in Honolulu. The Buckeyes won only one of a combined 10 sets while losing in succession to No. 11 Hawai'i (sweep), No. 1 Penn State (sweep) and No. 6 USC (four sets). This will be Ohio State's home opener.
The Cardinal vs. the Cardinals
No. 14 Ball State (21-10 last season) opens its season against Stanford. The Cardinals were picked by coaches to finish second in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, behind Lewis and ahead of Ohio State. Todd Chamberlain, a senior outside, and Matt McCarthy, a senior middle, were each selected to the preseason All-MIVA team.
The season-opening UCSB tournament featured seven ranked teams among the eight-team field (made up completely of MPSF teams) and gave Stanford coach John Kosty an idea of where the Cardinal stands.
In each match, Stanford highlighted different strengths of its game. From serving and passing against BYU, to blocking against Long Beach State, to the hitting of Evan Romero against Northridge.
However, the Northridge match exposed some blocking deficiencies that were not reflected in box score. Stanford had 12 team blocks in the match, but allowed Northridge to hit at a 32 percent clip, much too high for Kosty.
The five-player freshman recruiting class was expected to be special, but perhaps not this quickly. Stanford opened its season with libero Erik Shoji and outside hitter Brad Lawson in the starting lineup. Over the final two matches at UCSB, Gus Ellis joined them as well, giving Stanford three freshmen starters.
Shoji made the eight-member all-tournament team, while Lawson provided solid hitting and had seven blocks in the final. Ellis had six blocks in the same match.
Another lineup characteristic for Stanford was having four Hawaiian starters. Erik Shoji and Lawson joined junior Kawika Shoji (Erik's brother) and sophomore Spencer McLachlin as starters in each of the three matches. McLachlin had 12 kills in the final while Kawika Shoji made the eight-player all-tournament team.
Altogether, there are six players on the roster from Hawaii, all from Honolulu. Next year, the number of Hawaiians will rise to seven, with the addition of setter and Hilo native Chandler Kaaa, who has signed a letter of intent.
Junior setter Kawika Shoji's career assist total is at 1,682 after his 27-assist performance against Cal State Northridge. Shoji was named to the eight-player all-tournament team, alongside his brother Erik, a libero.
Kawika earned AVCA second-team All-America honors last season, becoming Stanford's first All-American since Olympic gold medalist Kevin Hansen in 2005, and the school's 17th overall.
Shoji's 990 assists (10.31 per set) in 2008 were the highest non-Hansen single-season total in Cardinal rally-scoring era history.
Despite a late start to the sport, junior opposite hitter Evan Romero has made a considerable impact at Stanford, leading the Cardinal in kills each of his first two seasons. He led the team with 18 kills in the UCSB tournament final, hitting a strong 32 percent.
Romero, who never played club ball until his junior year of high school, already has 828 career kills, which puts him within reach of Curt Toppel's rally-scoring era mark of 1,143.
Romero earned AVCA National Player of the Week (the first for Stanford since Toppel in 2003) and co-MPSF Player of the Week for his performances against Hawai'i and UC Santa Cruz for the week of Feb. 26-March 3, 2008.
Of Stanford's 31 regular-season matches, 25 are against preseason Top 15 teams. The Cardinal has 12 of the AVCA's Top 15 teams on its schedule, with nine in conference play. The Cardinal will play 10 ranked opponents at home.
A large portion of Stanford's first-half schedule is on the road, with only two home weekends in the first two months. Down the stretch, the Cardinal will play 11 of its last 13 regular-season matches at home.