Sports

Stanford men turn up the hitting in big volleyball win

 

Stanford middle blockers Kevin Rakestraw and Conrad Kaminski continued to pound kill after kill even after visiting UCLA made defensive adjustments.

As a result, the fourth-ranked Cardinal men's volleyball team took an important step in the race to a possible Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season title, beating the third-ranked Bruins, 25-21, 20-25, 25-22, 25-20, Sunday.

Stanford (12-2, 10-2 MPSF) knocked UCLA out of a tie for first place. The Cardinal and top-ranked Long Beach State share the penthouse at the midpoint of the conference season.

Rakestraw and Kaminski combined for 20 kills on 28 total attacks, with one error, for a hitting percentage of .679.

Stanford, which leads the MPSF in hitting percentage, hit .400 as a team. Outside hitters Gabriel Vega added 14 kills and Madison Hayden had 12.

"We have big middles and they are a tough match-up," Cardinal coach John Kosty said. "They also open opportunities for the outside hitters. It was Rakestraw's night but bottom line is it's a team and we put in a solid team effort."

That effort began with a back row that received well against the hardest serving team in the conference. Hayden led the way, cleanly handling 27 of 28 receptions. Jordan Ewert (22 of 24) and libero Evan Enriques (19 of 21) also contributed to a solid passing game.

Setter James Shaw runs the offense and recorded 43 assists on 55 kills. He also had five kills and hit .400.

"It's continuity and consistency," Shaw said. "We know we have guys who are winners, day in and day out, and guys who have been through it before. We're focused on getting better. We can't be satisfied. We can do things better."

Stanford, which failed to make last year's MPSF playoffs, has already exceeded its win total of a year ago and are 6-0 at home after winning half of its 16 home matches last season. The Cardinal was 2-10 on the road.

"We've preached splitting on the road and protecting the home court," Shaw said. "We've exceeded expectations and now our expectations have risen."

Stanford, a 6-2 mark away from The Farm, heads to UC San Diego for a conference match Thursday night, the first of three straight on the road.

The Cardinal opened the conference season splitting a pair of matches with then No. 1 BYU and hasn't slowed down since. The Bruins were the nation's top-ranked team a couple of weeks ago, while Stanford has climbed the rankings from its No. 13 position opening the season.

"One thing about the MPSF is that it gives us the ability to never overlook anybody," Kosty said. "We have to prepare for every match. It's little things that have been key to the season and it's a credit to the guys to how focused we are. Each man, every day in practice, has been doing their job and that binds the team together."

Stanford is just two years removed from reaching the national title game and six years removed from its national championship season.

"We knew we would be better if we stayed healthy," Kosty said. "That was with the whole team and not just one individual. It's been a solid process and we've concentrated on health, from training to eating correctly and making sure to take care of ourselves."

Down 14-11 in the first set, Stanford used a 6-3 spurt to tie it at 17-17, with the run bookended by two kills from Hayden. Kyle Dagostino subbed in and served Stanford to a 20-17 lead en route to the victory.

After the Bruins tied the match, Stanford claimed the third set 25-22, closing on an 8-4 run. Though the Cardinal took an early 6-3 lead, UCLA rallied to tie the score at 9-9, and inched ahead 18-17 after a barrage of kills. At 22-22, kills by Kaminski and senior Alex Stephanus, and a combo block by Shaw and Kaminski sealed the win for the Cardinal.

The fourth set went back-and-forth before Stanford's offensive efficiency and strength at the net finally overpowered the Bruins. Several errors by the Cardinal put the team down 4-1 early, but UCLA committed three of its own errors to tie the set at 4-4.

Trailing 15-14, kills by Shaw, Hayden and Vega sent the Cardinal on a 7-3 run and gave it the lead for good. Hayden's sixth kill of the fourth set closed the book on UCLA, 25-20.

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