Currently ranked No. 2 nationally, the men of the Stanford volleyball team are some of the best players in the nation. They play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, an extremely competitive conference boasting several top ranked teams. Stanford is currently 7-4 in the MPSF and 8-4 overall.
Stanford has one of the best defenses in the NCAA. Sophomore defensive specialist Erik Shoji leads the conference with 3.44 digs per set. “[H]aving Eric digging in the back makes the defense a threat, allowing us to go on runs off digs that other teams might not be able to produce,” says sophomore outside hitter Jake Vandermeer.
Though Stanford has great defenders and overall great passing, senior opposite Evan Romero feels it could be better. “[E]ven in areas of strength there is always room for improvement.”—he says—”If we can regain our defensive tenacity, we will be a very tough team to play.” Great defense is often undervalued in volleyball, especially with the men. It allows for the team to get those few extra chances on offense and gain an edge in close matches.
The Stanford hitters, though, are by no means subpar. Sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I-II Men’s National Player of the Week for his instrumental role in two victories earlier this year over University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Irvine. He combined for 37 kills in the matches and is second in the MPSF with 5.17 kills per set this season. Romero and junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin have also been extremely productive this year, each averaging at least a few kills every game.
“Our passing and hitting offense is very strong,” says Vandermeer, “especially with Brad’s, Evan’s and Spencer’s ability to put balls away from almost anywhere on the court.” The Cardinal hitters are not only dangerous but also consistent. As a team, Stanford has a formidable .348 hitting percentage, meaning about every third hit resulted in a kill. By contrast, Stanford’s opponents have been held to .287 hitting percentage.
Despite playing well, the season so far has not been one of complete dominance. The team is only a half game back from conference leaders BYU and Pepperdine. “We are in a good position, but had some unfortunate losses,” says senior setter Kawika Shoji. A tough couple of home losses came in back to back weeks against University of California, Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge.
Stanford hopes to gets its revenge in the second half. “Many of our players have been playing on this team for 3-4 years, so we know the challenges that come with a long season,” says Romero, “as well as what is needed to adequately prepare for the playoffs.”
The Cardinal still has much momentum going into the second half of the season and the team hopes that will resonate in the playoffs. Stanford had a huge victory recently over then ranked No. 3 University of Southern California. The team was dominant in the game and showed their best performances have yet to come. “It’s encouraging that we have yet to play to our potential,” says Kawika Shoji. “We have yet to hit our stride, and we will peak at the right time towards the end of our season.”
The players are poised to play their best during this next stretch of the season and then translate that into success during the NCAA tournament in the spring. The NCAA tournament semifinals and finals will both be held at Maple Pavilion this year, giving a national championship special significance to the players. “To be given the chance to win the National Championship at home would simply be a dream come true,” says Romero.
The Stanford men’s volleyball team has a unique opportunity this year should they be able to go on a championship run. They are playing well together and have some of the best players in the NCAA. It is not by chance that the team is ranked so high. With an experienced and talented squad, their ultimate goal is certainly viable.