Feb. 16, 2012
IRVINE, Calif. - The Stanford men’s volleyball team has moved up into a virtual tie for first in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and will attempt to maintain its hold against No. 2 UC Irvine and unranked UC San Diego this weekend. The matches mark the end of a 10-match, 40-day road stretch covering 7,617 miles.
Friday: No. 4 Stanford (9-2, 6-1) at No. 2 UC Irvine (9-2, 5-2), 7 p.m.
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Saturday: Stanford at UC San Diego (3-9, 1-6), 7 p.m.
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The MPSF Race: UCLA’s loss to Long Beach State on Tuesday dropped the first-place Bruins (7-1) into a tie with Stanford (6-1) in the loss column for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation lead. Four teams are within 1½ matches of first, including UC Irvine (5-2) – all with one or two losses.
What It Means: Not only are teams vying for top seeds in the eight-team MPSF tournament (April 21-28), which determines the conference’s lone automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, but are attempting to get an edge on other at-large contenders should another team win the MPSF tournament. For that reason, the Stanford and UCI match – in the first of their two regular-season meetings – takes on greater importance.
The Road Trip: The Cardinal appropriately refers to itself as the “Road Warriors,” as the team closes out a 10-match road stretch covering 7,617 miles. Before its conference home opener on Feb. 24 against Pepperdine, Stanford will have gone 40 days without playing at home and will have opened the MPSF season with nine matches away. Every other MPSF team has played at least three times at home in conference play.
Stanford’s 6-2 record on the trip (5-1 in MPSF play) has been exemplary considering the competition has included then-No. 1 BYU (two victories), current No. 1 UCLA (a loss), and defending national champion Ohio State (a victory) and eight teams currently ranked in the AVCA Top 15.
For Stanford to be successful on the road would seem to bode well for the Cardinal in the future. After all, Stanford plays 11 of its final 13 MPSF matches at home.
Rare Accomplishments: The road trip has included Stanford's first two-match sweep at BYU since 1991 and first road victories over Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge in the same year since 2003.
Reigning National Player of the Week: Senior outside hitter Brad Lawson is the reigning MPSF Molten Player of the Week and Sports Imports/AVCA Men's Division I-II National Player of the Week for his performances in road victories over No. 9 Long Beach State and No. 11 Cal State Northridge. Lawson combined for 40 kills, nine digs, five aces, four blocks and a .352 hitting percentage. The kill totals of 21 vs. Long Beach and 19 vs. Northridge were the highest of the season. Lawson had eight kills and no errors, and a .571 hitting percentage in the fourth and fifth sets to spark the Cardinal comeback. It was the fourth national Player of the Week honor of Lawson’s career.
Rankings: Stanford holds on to No. 4 in the AVCA coaches’ poll and No. 3 in the Volleyball Magazine rankings after a pair of victories last weekend. No. 4 matches Stanford’s highest AVCA season ranking, having held the spot for all but the Jan. 30 edition.
Friday’s Opponent, UC Irvine: The Anteaters were the AVCA Preseason No. 1 only to fall in a pair of home matches against then-No. 2 BYU in a matchup of the top two ranked teams. Since then, UCI (9-2, 5-2) has reeled off five consecutive victories, including two at Hawai’i last week. Senior opposite Carson Clark is a three-time All-America and a U.S. national team veteran, having played on the 2010 World Championships team.
The UC Irvine Series: Stanford has won five consecutive matches against UCI over the past two seasons, including both ends of the home-and-home series in 2011. That streak came after Stanford failed to take a game off UCI in two 2009 meetings. Of particular note is the matchup between multiple All-Americans Stanford’s Brad Lawson and UCI’s Carson Clark, meeting for the final season. Lawson holds a 5-2 edge in their duel. Stanford leads the all-time series 29-12.
Saturday’s Opponent, UC San Diego: The Tritons lost twice to visiting BYU last week, but came away encouraged after a five-set loss by taking the second set in a 42-40 marathon – the longest set in the MPSF this season. Vaun Lellon had 25 kills and Carl Eberts 22 in the match. Sophomore starting middle blocker Fred Stahl is the son of the former Stanford football player of the same name.
The UC San Diego Series: Stanford holds a 37-3 all-time series lead against UC San Diego, but Tritons can surprise, beating the Cardinal at Stanford last year, snapping an 18-match losing streak in the series.