Sports

Stanford men's volleyball has a tough road to the finals

 

Senior outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin have been through the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball wars enough to know that there's never an easy weekend.

It will take some doing to qualify for the NCAA championships in Chicago come May, though fourth-ranked Stanford certainly has the talent to get to the Final Four.

Stanford (1-0) plays No. 8 Lewis in its home opener on Friday at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal also plays Saturday in Burnham Pavilion at 7 p.m. against Grand Canyon College.

Stanford opened its season with a seventh-place showing at the UC Santa Barbara tournament last weekend, with only its final match, a regulation contest against then No. 2 UCLA, counting toward its record.

Cook and Irvin return as the most experienced players for a team that returns its top six point producers, top setter and top two liberos from last year.

Cook (475 points) and Irvin (394 1/2) are two of the four seniors upon whom the Cardinal (12-12 in the MPSF last year, 15-15 overall) will look for leadership this season.

Eric Mochalski (247) and Denny Falls (119 1/2) are also seniors with plenty of experience to bring to the table.

Add redshirt junior Daniel Tublin (111 1/2) and sophomore setter James Shaw (101 1/2) to the mix, along with redshirt junior liberos Scott Sakaida (.957 reception return success) and Grant Delgado (.959) and coach John Kosty has to be feeling pretty good about Stanford's chances.

Kosty's squad won the 2010 NCAA championship in front of a home crowd. A new set of seniors hope to return to the top.

The journey, as is usual in the highly competitive MPSF, will be lined with pitfalls, rough edges and tough teams, including two-time defending national champion UC Irvine and current No. 1 Long Beach State.

In fact, eight of the top 10 nationally ranked teams are members of the MPSF, which features a home- and-home format that makes every meeting notable.

The 49ers, who won the UCSB tournament to earn its top ranking this week, reached the MPSF tournament championship last year before losing to BYU.

The Anteaters did not even reach the title match of the conference tournament but came back to win the national title with a victory over the Cougars. That's how tough it is to win in the MPSF.

Cook, whose older sister Karissa played volleyball at Stanford, is one of six returning first team All-MPSF selections. Irvin was a second-team pick.

Shaw, whose father Don coached both the men's and women's volleyball programs at Stanford, was accorded honorable mention. He also was named to the all-freshmen team.

Junior middle blocker Spencer Haly made 15 starts last year, averaging 1.12 kills and 1.08 blocks per set. Juniors Matt Aiello and Sean Kemper saw limited action.

Shaw leads a sophomore class that also includes Conrad Kaminski, who recorded 16 kills in 19 sets. Joe Ctvrtlik, Gabriel Vega and Madson Hayden also saw action. Alex Stephanus recorded four kills in one set.

With so many returning veterans, the highly-regarded freshmen may find it difficult breaking into the lineup. Seven-footer Kevin Rakestraw leads a decorated four-man rookie class that should push for playing time. Setter Cole Fiers and outside hitters Clay Jones and Colin McCall complete the newcomers.

This weekend are the final two nonconference matches before MPSF play opens with a trip to UCLA for a rematch with the Bruins on Jan. 17.

Lewis (1-1) opened the season last week with a four-set loss to UC Irvine in Romeoville, Ill. The Flyers bounced back with a four-set win over then-No. 3 BYU.

Junior outside hitter Greg Petty leads Lewis after two matches, averaging 3.63 kills and 4.44 points per set. Redshirt junior Geoff Powell has added 3.50 kills and 3.88 points per set.

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