Sports

Stanford men's volleyball has a healthy shot at a championship

 

James Shaw can tell you his earliest memories of Maples Pavilion because he's seen the video. The Stanford senior literally grew up in the structure.

Shaw and his older sister, Jordan, who played volleyball at St. Mary's College, spent time at the facility because their father, Don, coached the Cardinal women's volleyball team for 16 years and then coached the men's team another seven years. It's always felt like home.

"My dad took video of everything," Shaw said. "I've watched a video of me and my sister up the bleachers, I believe it was Halloween, and we were just dancing around."

These days, the 6-foot-8 Shaw is doing a different kind of dance, one that may lead to a return trip to the national championship.

The Cardinal (13-2, 11-2 MPSF) opened the second half of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season by beating host UC San Diego, 25-14, 25-17, 25-18, Thursday night to remain in a first-place tie with Long Beach State.

Stanford, picked to finish eighth by the conference coaches, failed to make last year's MPSF playoffs but turned it around in a hurry. The Cardinal already has exceeded its win total of a year ago and is 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, 7-2 away from The Farm, is scheduled to meet UC Irvine (4-10, 3-9) Friday night.

It's not much of a secret that having a fully healthy Shaw, one of the top college setters in the nation and a member of the U.S. National Team program, has made a big difference.

He missed the second half of last season with a knee injury and only returned from rehab in December.

"I might have been a little rusty at the beginning of the year," Shaw said. "But I found a groove and everything seems to be going well."

Stanford leads the MPSF in hitting percentage because of players like middle blockers Kevin Rakestraw and Conrad Kaminski combined for 18 kills on 21 total attacks, with no errors, against the Toreros.

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

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 in the preseason.

"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 last national championship season.

"We knew we would be better if we stayed healthy," Kosty said. "That was with the whole team and not just Shaw. 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."

It has led to a cohesive group seemingly moving as one on the court.

Shaw describes his style as "all over the place," though that may be because he has a wealth of heavy hitters to choose from.

"Sometimes I know whose getting the ball before the play starts," he said. "Sometimes I don't know until the ball falls into my hands. I feel like make the right decisions. We can rely on a lot of different people."

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