The nationally No. 4-ranked Stanford men's volleyball team will resume play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation on Friday when the Cardinal (5-2, 8-2) plays host to UC San Diego at Maples Pavilion. The defending conference champion Cardinal is in fourth place in the 12-team conference.
Stanford returned home from snowy Chicago to conclude a travel odyssey of 9,227 miles that began on Jan. 20 and took the team to Hawaii, Los Angeles, back to Stanford, and off to Chicago during a seven-match in seven-cities tour.
"It's been a great weekend and a great stretch for us," Cardinal coach John Kosty said. "We're not tired; we're just getting into the heart of our season. We're ready."
Stanford beat host Loyola-Chicago, 18-25, 25-14, 25-22, 25-21, in nonconference action Saturday night.
With the whole of the Stanford pitching staff returning, the Cardinal looks to build on its success when the season opens at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe Friday against Cal State Northridge.
Senior Ashley Chinn made 21 starts, including 14 of 19 down the stretch, to lead Stanford. Sophomores Teagan Gerhart and Jenna Rich both gained experience during their rookie seasons.
Chinn has improved in each of her first three years. She won 12 games for the Cardinal last season, including four of her last six. She ended the year with a 3.17 ERA and career highs with 117 strikeouts and 128 innings pitched. Chinn's 36 career wins rank ninth in school history, while her 310 career strikeouts rank fifth.
Gerhart, the younger sister of Stanford football record-holder Toby Gerhart, had her freshman year cut short with a season-ending injury. She's at full strength, though stamina may not be at the same level. Her 1.65 ERA ranked sixth in the Pac-10, while her 173 total strikeouts were eighth last year. She struck out 173, the 10th best single season mark in school history. Gerhart threw 18 complete games with 11 shutouts, including a perfect game, two other no-hitters and a one-hitter, and finished with a 22-6 record.
Stanford won't have to play its way into the NCAA tournament this year. A Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament title means an automatic bid into the postseason.
The Cardinal, which opens its season Saturday with a home match against Notre Dame at 11 a.m., looks to build on its best season ever when it was ranked eighth in the nation at one point and gained admittance to the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history.
Stanford (15-6 last year) may be overreaching to think it can become the first team from west of the Mississippi River to reach the Final Four. The Cardinal is just thinking big.
"We want to push through and get out of the first round of the tournament with the eventual goal of getting to the final four," Stanford coach Amy Bokker said. "We know that it will take a lot of hard work and first and foremost is still getting through the MPSF and continuing to be a force in the conference."
The Cardinal returns the majority of last season's team and recruited a strong group of freshmen that adds depth.
"We feel like we have a good mix of experience coming back and some young players with speed," Bokker said. "We want to try to play an up-tempo game. Our fast breaks have been great during the fall, which is something that we lacked last season. I think with our experienced midfield we can go into games with a goal of wearing teams down with the way we run our midfield lines."
Two-time defending MPSF Player of the Year Lauren Schmidt returns for her fifth year and could be ranked among the best in the nation by season's end. She is joined by veterans Leslie Foard and Karen Nesbitt, giving Stanford a load of talent at the midfield position.
Top-ranked Stanford (8-0) will put its 33-meet winning streak on the line Saturday against No. 4 Cal (6-1) in Berkeley at 2 p.m. The Cardinal last loss a dual meet in 2007, at Georgia.
Stanford feature four swimmers ranked in the national top-10 in at least three different events. Freshman Andie Taylor has four top times, ranking as high as No. 2 in the 1000 free and No. 4 in the 400 IM, with senior Kate Dwelley, junior Betsy Webb and freshman Maya DiRado all checking in with three, top-10 times.
Heading into this weekend, the 100 free features four Bay Area swimmers, three from Stanford led by Dwelley (fourth) and one from the Bears. Stanford also has two of the top 50 freestylers in Dwelley (sixth) and Webb (fifth).
Both teams also rank in the national top-10 in three of four relays, with Stanford's best relay showing, a No. 4 ranking in the 200 free. Cal is ranked No. 1 in the 200 medley relay and second in the 200 free relay. The shorter 200 medley relay is the only relay the Cardinal isn't ranked in the national top 10.
Stanford completes the regular season with a pair of Pac-10 home meets.
The Cardinal (2-2, 7-9-1) hosts Cal Poly on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Stanford will hold Senior Day on Sunday at 2 p.m. against Arizona State, both in Burnham Pavilion.
Senior Zack Giesen, junior Nick Amuchastegui and sophomore Ryan Mango are among the top 10 in their weight class in the InterMat rankings. Mango (125 pounds) and Amuchastegui (174) are the highest ranked, both at No. 6. Giesen moved to No. 12 at 197 pounds.