By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
STANFORD, Calif. -
Eric Mochalski and Steven Irvin weren't exactly buddies in high school. Both played for rival, powerhouse volleyball teams that contended for championships.
Competition was so fierce, matches between Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Calif. (Mochalski) and Loyola of Los Angeles (Irvin) were held at colleges because their home gyms couldn't accommodate more than 2,000 spectators.
Mochalski's Mira Costa team won the CIF Southern Section Division I title in 2008, and Irvin's Loyola won the crown in 2009 and 2010, plus a mythical national title in '09. The schools have combined to win 18 CIF boys volleyball championships.
"I thought there was a mutual respect because we both had similar roles on our teams," said Mochalski. "We would be the go-to guys a lot of the time. I personally didn't like him too much because he beat me more than I beat him. There were bad feelings."
Rumor had it Irvin wouldn't attend the same college or university because he felt so much animosity toward Mochalski.
"I think I might have said that way before I was even serious about choosing a college," he said. "That's when we were in the big rival stage. I still had the high school maturity."
These days, the two are practically inseparable. Both are standout 6-foot-5 juniors at Stanford; both are members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity and live across the hall from each other; and both are science, technology and society majors.
"We had been talking about it," said Irvin. "We Facebook messaged each and expected the same things out of our teams. I remember him saying, `I just committed, now it's your turn.' Later than night, I committed. From that point on, we were pretty excited to play together and started becoming friends."
The similarities don't end there. Both fathers played volleyball at UCLA and won national championships. Mochalski has an older brother who played at USC, while Irvin has two sisters who have played at USC.
Stanford coach John Kosty said it's not unusual for friendly high school rivals to become close teammates in college.
"That's collegiate volleyball in a nutshell," he said. "Everywhere we play, there are a lot of rivalries because of how small our sport is. Right after the last serve of the last match of their high school careers, it does switch."
Of the 11 residents of Kappa Alpha, seven are volleyball players. For the most part, they enjoy spending so much time together.
"When you're around the team 24 hours a day, it can be a little bit of a grind, but it never causes problems," Mochalski said. "I don't think you'll find a tighter team."
Although Mochalski and Irvin practically grew up at the beach, neither got serious about volleyball until high school.
"Both high schools have produced some great volleyball players," said Mochalski. "We were a continuation of that."
Most notable alums include Hall of Famer Sinjin Smith of Loyola, and the Dodd Brothers - Ted, Mike and Matt - of Mira Costa.
After arriving at Stanford, a mutual friend suggested Mochalski and Irvin team up together in a SoCal tournament. Naturally, they won.
Irvin, an outside hitter, posted a career-high 27 kills Friday at Hawai'I - nine more than his previous high - and followed with 22 more on Saturday. Mochalski, a middle blocker, has set Stanford match and season records for hitting percentage. Both are all-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation selections.
"They're both highly-skilled college players," said Kosty. "Eric is a more outgoing player and demonstrative. Steven is quieter and steady. Steven doesn't have the flash that Eric will show, but both have unique talents."
And they complement each other.
"The good thing is they play different positions and make each other better," Kosty said. "They're teammates on the floor, not competitors on the floor."
After splitting a pair of five-set matches in Hawai'i, the No. 4 Cardinal (7-3, 4-3) returns home for a Friday match at Burnham Pavilion (6:30 p.m.) against No. 1 UC Irvine and a Saturday match at Maples Pavilion (7 p.m.) against UC San Diego.
The 18-player Cardinal roster has only one senior and 13 underclassmen.
"I knew it would be a learning process," Mochalski said. "It takes time to learn how to win in all sorts of ways. So, I knew we would have our struggles, but I also knew we would progress as the season goes on. I think our finished product is going to be pretty good."
Said Irvin, "We do have a lot of youth on the team, but different players on the court aren't necessarily that young. We've also had a lot of lineup changes. At the end of the year, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."
Both players agree a four-set victory against UCLA on Jan. 22 was a turning point after two consecutive road losses. It began a run of three consecutive victories - quite a feat in the rugged and balanced MPSF. Twelve of the 13 conference teams are ranked in the AVCA Top 15, including Nos. 1-6.
"The MPSF is a grind and the freshmen are going to find that out quickly," said Mochalski. "You just learn how to be on the road, get your schoolwork done, stay focused, and learn how to bring it every single night, because every night is a challenge."
Both players categorize the Cardinal as a hard-working group and insist the team's six freshmen - including starting setter James Shaw -- have caught on quickly.
"No one on this team doubts our talent," Irvin said. "We just have to put the pieces together and get better every day."
Added Mochalski, "We're creating a monster. The parts are there."