In the midst of massive forty-day road trip, the Stanford men's team has managed to put some very impressive W’s in their record. First came the two wins over former No. 1 BYU and last weekend came the very impressive 3-0 win over former No. 2 UCI. For their efforts they have been granted the privilege of being ranked Number 1 in the nation.
Having been at the game and witnessing the Stanford team pull off the win over UCI, I thought they would at least move up to No. 2. After all they did lose rather quickly in three sets to last week's No. 1, UCLA. But with UCLA's loss to a previously down and out Long Beach State squad last week, Stanford earned the top spot with quite a performance at the Bren Center.
The BYU win came with one very large asterisk. The Cougars were without their leading hitter Taylor Sander who is out for several weeks with a broken hand. However, BYU middle blocker Futi Tavana was back in the line up for the first time in a while so the Cougars were not without weapons.
There is no such asterisk on the UCI win and the Cardinal did it decisively. After the match, Coach John Speraw called this Stanford team “the best team in America.” Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. There is still a lot of season left to play. But last Friday night Stanford definitely played like it.
The first impressive thing about the win was the comeback they staged in the first set. Stanford was down 13-9, 17-12, 22-16 and 24-21 in the set. Some teams might have written that set off and vowed to come back strong in set two. Clearly, giving up was not on Stanford’s game plan. Not once during the comeback run did they look uncomfortable or unsure they could pull it off. They were solid, steady and confident even as they fended off eight UCI set points. They finally won the set 32-30.
The second set was a rout. Stanford utilized the momentum of Set 1 and continued to roll over a very flat UCI team who missed seven serves in that set alone. The Cardinal won that one 25-15. Stanford continued to roll in the third set and got out to a 17-12 lead. UCI did battled back valiantly with a 6-1 run that tied the set at 18. The game was also tied at 22, but Stanford was able to go on a 3-1 run to win the match 25-23.
Stanford won the match by playing solid all-around volleyball. The Cardinal attackers had a field day, hitting .463 to UCI’s .220. Stanford’s middle Eric Mochalski did a great job patrolling the net, finishing with five kills and a season-high eight total blocks. Stanford out-blocked UCI 9-5 for the match. Libero Eric Shoji put on a clinic with his passing and digging. Shoji picked up a match-high 15 digs.
UCI did manage to best Stanford in aces, picking up seven points to Stanford’s two in that category. But in the end, UCI could not adjust to counter what Stanford was throwing at them.
The 40-day road trip is now complete and Stanford will return to Palo Alto as the reigning No. 1 with nothing but home games through the end of March. In just two weeks, they will take on UCI once again. Other teams visiting The Farm in the next month that could challenge Stanford are Pepperdine, USC and Hawaii.
The Stanford men have proven they can play well on the road and challenge the best teams out there. Now they'll have to prove that they can handle the pressure of holding on to that No. 1 ranking. As the third No. 1 in just four weeks, that may not be an easy task. But for now, they should bask in a well-deserved placement at the top of the heap.