STANFORD, Calif. - Erik Shoji added another chapter to his growing legend in Stanford’s playoff victory over Pepperdine.
The senior, called “the greatest libero in collegiate volleyball history” by coach John Kosty, provided a dig for the ages in the 25-23, 25-17, 23-25, 25-17 victory in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
The victory enabled Stanford to advance to the MPSF semifinals Thursday against BYU in a 5 p.m. match at USC’s Galen Center.
With Stanford leading 13-8 in the fourth set, Pepperdine surprised Stanford with a quick set to 6-foot-9 middle blocker Matt Pollock. With no block to cover him, Pollock slammed the ball straight down, only for Shoji to dive out of nowhere to reach the ball, and pop it in the air for Eric Mochalski to pound for a Stanford point.
“Spectacular,” is how Kosty described it.
“That’s a game-changer,” Kosty said. “When he’s in the zone, it’s phenomenal what he can do.
“When you dig a quick attack, there’s no block up and the 6-9 middle blocker hits it straight down to the 11-foot line and you stick a hand underneath it to dig it – It takes special player to do that -- No. 1, just to read where he thinks it’s going to hit and, No. 2, to be able to put a platform under it to dig it straight up in the air to transition.
“It’s pretty phenomenal that Erik has two spectacular plays to bookend his career. The kick dig was his freshman year. Now, he’s got this one his senior year.”
The famous Shoji kick assist came at UC San Diego, was No. 3 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Plays of the Week and has received more than 347,000 views on YouTube.
Shoji Erik Shoji has 1,375 assists in his career. That’s a school record by far, including the sideout era, and is believed to be a collegiate record. His 447 digs as a freshman is believe to be a collegiate record as well.
On Wednesday, Shoji is expected to earn his fourth AVCA first-team All-America honor, an unprecedented achievement in Stanford history.
“He’s a spectacular player and deserves all the accolades he gets,” Kosty said.
Here is Shoji's dig against Pepperdine:
Here's Shoji's classic from 2009:
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The MPSF final four this weekend at USC features the four top-ranked teams in the country – and all can be regarded as contenders for a national championship.
It’s widely accepted that the MPSF will get two teams into the four-team NCAA tournament – its’ tournament champion, which receives an automatic bid, and an at-large.
Kosty does not believe that simply reaching the MPSF title match will guarantee an NCAA berth.
“Just getting to the final is not going to guarantee you anything,” Kosty said. “The only guarantee is to win the tournament. And that’s it. Everything else, you put in the NCAA committee’s hands. They’re great, but you don’t want to leave it in a committee’s hands.”
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Senior outside hitter Brad Lawson broke Stanford’s career kills record for the rally-scoring era in the match. Lawson now has 1,788, breaking the mark set by Evan Romero (2007-10), who had 1,781. Including the sideout era, Lawson is fifth all-time in kills, with Matt Fuerbringer (1994-97) on top with 2,221.
“It feels good,” Lawson said. “A lot of props to my man, Evan Romero. He was an awesome player. Honestly, records don’t mean much to me. I had no idea when I broke the ace record. I had no idea I had a kill record on the line tonight.
“It’s just a joy to be out here playing with this team. If I’m a record-setting player, so be it. I’ve just enjoyed being on the court with this team. I’m going to miss Maples, I’m going to miss playing here. But we’ve still got four more matches. It’s so much fun right now.”
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Lawson had 22 kills and hit .514 in his final home match, despite being ineffective early on.
“Believe it or not, I was a little bit nervous,” Lawson said. “I usually don’t get nervous for volleyball games. I approach it as a game most of the time. Just visions of last year when we lost to Long Beach started coming back to me.
“I just relied on things I’ve been taught over the years, things that (former coach) Chris McLachlin told me. ‘It’s just a game. Enjoy every point. You’re a senior.’ And that got me going.”
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Stanford beat BYU twice, in a pair of early-season matches in Provo. However, the Cougars were without prime hitting threat Taylor Sander, who was out with a hand injury. Sander now is healthy.
“There is a lot of video to be watched to just see them at this point of the season,” Lawson said. “I’m going to embrace the challenge. We’ve got a big week ahead of us.”
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Senior setter Evan Barry cautions that Stanford must stick to its game in order to be successful.
“Our strategy all along has been to keep doing what Stanford volleyball does, and that’s serve and pass and play Stanford volleyball,” he said. “If we try to do too much, we can get outside of ourselves and we don’t do our best. We’ve stuck to what we’ve been really good at this year and relied on the big hitters.”