Oct. 17, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. - "Worst to First!"
That's been the mantra of the Stanford men's volleyball class of 2010 since they were freshmen suffering through a 3-25 season.
Ever-positive assistant coach Al Roderigues coined the phrase during road trip van rides. The freshmen always seemed to gravitate toward Roderigues and the conversations during those rides remain ingrained in them today as they prepare for their final seasons.
Stanford begins practice for the 2010 season on Monday, with the "Worst to First!" motto not just a hopeful sentiment, but a realistic goal. The Cardinal has improved dramatically each of the past two seasons, winning more matches in 2009 in a 21-11 season than it had since its 1997 national title year.
The class of '10 includes 2008 first-team All-America setter Kawika Shoji, three-time team kills leader Evan Romero and third-year starting middle blocker Garrett Werner, as well as hitters Ed Howell and Jason Palacios.
Combine them with a lineup that includes sophomore libero Erik Shoji, the 2008 national Newcomer of the Year, as well as fellow U.S. junior national players Brad Lawson and Gus Ellis, and third-year starting outside hitter Spencer McLachlin, and no wonder the anticipation is high.
Oh yes, and the NCAA final four will be at Stanford's Maples Pavilion on May 6 and 8.
"Worst to first has been the mantra of the senior class," said Stanford coach John Kosty, beginning his fourth season as head coach and 20th on staff. "They're putting pressure on themselves because they know this is it. They're willing to put the burden on their shoulders to attain their goals."
Except for graduated middle blocker Brandon Williams, a part-time starter last year, Stanford returns its starting lineup intact from a side that finished No. 6, the program's highest-ending ranking since 2003.
Plus, the Cardinal will benefit from the additions of freshmen Chandler Kaaa (setter) and Jake Kneller (outside hitter), as well as former Stanford club player Jake Vandermeer, who won a spot on the team.
The final new piece is assistant coach Chris McLachlin, Spencer's father, who was a player-coach at Stanford in the late 1960s and coached Honolulu's Punahou School to 11 Hawaii state championships.
"We've got a very good team this year," Kosty said. "We've got a great group of guys who really understand team chemistry and are really looking toward to the first week of practice when the spotlight will finally be turned on."