April 15, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. -
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The No. 1 Stanford men's volleyball team will clinch a share of its first conference championship since 1997 by winning one of its final two regular season matches -- at UCLA on Friday or at UC Irvine on Saturday. Two victories would ensure sole possession of first place and the top seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. But even with two losses, Stanford still could gain a share of the title under the scenario of a five-way tie for first. This much is certain, the No. 1 seed and a conference title won't be determined until the final night of the regular season.
Follow the Action
Live stats for both matches can be found at gostanford.com. The Gametracker live stats can be found in the Calendar of Events on the main page, or the men's volleyball schedule page. A "Listen" link to Friday's UCLA's audio broadcast will be provided as well on gostanford.com.
What's at Stake?
First place. Stanford must win one of its final two matches to clinch a share of its first conference title since 1997 and seventh overall. However, the MPSF race is so tight that there still is a chance for a five-way tie for first. Stanford can finish no worse than a tie for second, which guarantees its best finish since 1998. Stanford (15-5) holds a one-game lead in the standings over Cal State Northridge and BYU (both 14-6) and would gain sole possession of the MPSF title by winning both matches. A Stanford split would require a Northridge-BYU split of their two-match series for the Cardinal to be the sole champion.
Top seed. Stanford already has clinched homecourt for the first round, but is seeking homecourt throughout the tournament. Stanford still can finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed to the No. 4 seed. Among contenders, Stanford holds a tiebreaker advantage over Hawai'i, but not against BYU, Cal State Northridge, or Pepperdine. Stanford can earn the No. 1 seed with a weekend split if Cal State Northridge and BYU split their two-match series. Otherwise, Stanford must win out.
Why is the No. 1 Seed so Important?
The top seed in the eight-team MPSF Tournament would need only to win its first-round match to play host to the semifinals and final. In such a competitive conference, any edge, such as homecourt, is treasured. Only the MPSF Tournament champion qualifies automatically for the four-team NCAA Tournament, which will be held May 6 and 8 and Stanford's Maples Pavilion. First place is important not only for seeding purposes, but because it would guarantee that first-place team will receive serious consideration for the single NCAA at-large berth should it fail to win the conference tournament. The top 10 teams in the national rankings all are from the MPSF, virtually assuring that the at-large berth will come from the conference.
Stanford has been ranked No. 1 for six weeks, since March 8. It's Stanford first No. 1 ranking since 2001, and latest such ranking since 1997. Stanford received 14 of the 18 first-place votes this week, with No. 2 BYU (three) and No. 5 Hawai'i (one) receiving the others.
Stanford's Recent Play
The Cardinal began the MPSF season 3-3, but has won 15 of its past 17 matches, including 11 of its past 12. Stanford has won four straight, including a 30-22, 30-25, 36-38, 26-30, 15-6 victory over No. 3 Pepperdine on Friday and a 30-23, 30-24, 30-15 triumph over No. 6 USC on Saturday. Stanford has clinched its best record, by winning percentage, since going 27-3 in 1997.
Stanford senior Evan Romero, the Cardinal's all-time kills leader in the rally-scoring era, had a career-high 37 kills against Pepperdine on Friday, including five in the fifth set, and was named MPSF co-Player of the Week. The previous high total for Romero was a 34-kill performance as a sophomore against Ball State and was one off the national season best.
Brad Lawson, a two-time AVCA National Player of the Week this season and Stanford's season kill leader, has 400 kills this season and is hitting .395.
All-American Kawika Shoji (13.86) is second in the nation in assists per game, but is a key reason reason Stanford leads the nation in assists per game (15.68) and hitting percentage (.356).
Friday's Opponent: UCLA
The seventh-place Bruins (15-12, 10-10) can clinch a spot in the eight-team MPSF Tournament with a victory this weekend over Stanford or Pacific. Last week, the Bruins gave Coach Al Scates his 1,200th career victory with a 3-2 come-from-behind triumph at Long Beach State. Trailing 14-16 in Game 5, UCLA reeled off four straight points to win the match Friday, though the Bruins were upset at 11th-place UC San Diego, 3-1, on Saturday.
The UCLA Series
Stanford beat then-No. 3 UCLA 30-24, 30-23, 30-24 on Feb. 12 at Maples Pavilion, with Brad Lawson leading the Cardinal with 15 kills. Stanford trails in the all-time series 60-14, but has won the past two matches. However, Stanford has lost its past six matches at Pauley Pavilion. Stanford's last victory there was April 11, 2003, when All-America setter Kevin Hansen led the Cardinal to a three-set victory.
Saturday's Opponent: UC Irvine
The defending national champions have won three straight and are in the eighth and final MPSF playoff spot entering the weekend. The Anteaters still can finish anywhere from seventh to 10th. UCI senior outside hitter Cole Reinholm, the son of former Stanford player-coach Erik Reinholm, will be honored before Saturday's match on the team's Senior Night.
The UC Irvine Series
Evan Romero opened the fourth set with four consecutive service aces to spark Stanford to a 30-25, 21-30, 30-28, 30-26 victory in their most recent meeting, at home Feb. 13. Stanford holds a 25-12 lead in the all-time series.