The fourth-ranked Stanford men's volleyball team can help break up the logjam at the top of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation this weekend, as No. 10 UC Santa Barbara and No. 2 UCLA visits Northern California.
The Cardinal (10-2 8-2 MPSF) shares first place with the Bruins (12-2, 8-2) and top-ranked Long Beach State (11-2, 8-2). The Gauchos (10-5, 6-4) reside in sixth.
Stanford and No. 2 BYU (10-2, 6-2) have split their matches this year and the Cardinal is coming off a two-match sweep of then-No. 4 Hawaii last weekend.
While the Cardinal has already half of its 20 scheduled conference matches, it ha yet to play UCLA and UCSB.
At this point last year, Stanford was 3-7 in conference play and 4-10 overall. Madison Hayden, Gabriel Vega and Conrad Kaminski, the Cardinal's top three hitters, all have improved upon their numbers from last year.
Hayden, the reigning MPSF Player of the Week, averages 3.76 kills per set as compared to 3.11 last year. Vega is at 3.07 from 2.44 and Kaminski is at 2.31 from 1.81.
Part of the improvement can be traced to the health of setter James Shaw, a two-time All-American who missed half of 2015 due to injury.
Shaw currently ranks second in the MPSF in assists (10.62) and has helped the Cardinal lead the conference in hitting percentage (.338).
Kaminski is second in the conference with 1.51 blocks per set and fifth with a .471 attack percentage.
Stanford has played better on the road, with a 6-2 mark. The Cardinal was 2-10 on the road all of last year.
Friday's match with the Gauchos will be held at Burnham Pavilion at 7 p.m. Sunday's match against the Bruins takes place at Maples Pavilion with an 11 a.m. start and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Stanford enters the weekend on a three-match winning streak and has won seven of eight overall.
The Cardinal has lost four straight to UCLA and dropped three of four to UCSB.
No. 13 Stanford continues its four-match homestand, hosting No. 28 Fresno State on Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
Coming off back-to-back wins, the Cardinal (3-2) is navigating through a February stretch that features only four matches, all of which will be played on its home court.
Fresno State (5-3) is the fourth top-30 opponent Stanford has faced this season. The Bulldogs, who are winless in 17 attempts against the Cardinal, pocketed a road win at UCLA in their second match of the season.
Stanford is paced by Taylor Davidson's team-high 12-5 overall record, while Caroline Doyle (10-5 overall) has also recorded double-digit victories. Nobody is hotter than Caroline Lampl, who enters this weekend riding a six-match winning streak to push her record to 9-2 overall.
The doubles team of Davidson and Doyle is ranked No. 5 in the nation, compiling a 16-2 overall record while winning four of five duals.
Stanford hosts North Dakota State, Long Beach State and St. Mary's this weekend at the Stanford Nike Invitational.
The Cardinal (3-2) opens play against the Bison (2-3) at 5 p.m. Sunday. Stanford meets St. Mary's at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by a game against Long Beach State.
Stanford opened its season at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., last weekend, winning three of its five games. Kylie Sorenson paced Stanford offensively, going 7-for-15 (.467) with five runs, five RBI, a home run and a .667 slugging percentage.
All-American Kayla Bonstrom went 6-for-14 (.429) with six runs, three RBI, a home run and a .643 slugging percentage. Jessica Plaza, Molly Fowkes and Bessie Noll each hit .313 or better on the weekend.
Carolyn Lee made her collegiate debut in the circle and went 1-1. She recorded a 2.10 ERA and permitted eight runs, only four earned, on 15 hits and three walks in 13 1/3 innings. Haley Snyder pitched 16 innings over three games and recorded a 3.50 ERA with 13 strikeouts.
The No. 10-ranked Cardinal will have to be at its best when it plays host to No. 2 Cal in the annual Big Splash on Saturday at Avery Aquatic Center at noon.
The Bears come into the Pac-12 dual meet with two swimmers holding U.S.-leading times in three events plus two national-leading relay squads. Ryan Murphy is No. 1 in the 100 back (44.75) and Josh Prenot leads the country in the 200 breast (1:51.75) and 200 IM (1:43.13).
The Bears also lead the nation in the 800 free relay (6:16.41) and 400 medley relay (3:04.88). All five times are faster than the listed pool records at Stanford.
Sophomore Andrew Liang from Palo Alto High and sophomore Curtis Ogren from Menlo Park (and St. Francis High) will play key roles for the Cardinal. Ogren holds the school record in the 400 IM, a 3:41.23 from last season.