Men's Volleyball Hits SoCal

We admittedly put our focus here at <i>The Bootleg</i> on a few sports with almost all of our energies and resources. That is not to say we do not have love for the many fantastic athletes and programs on The Farm. Men's volleyball is one that gets almost no publicity in any forum, but thankfully a SoCal Bootie stepped up to the plate to give us this report of the UCSD match this past weekend. Enjoy!

Traveling to Southern California this past weekend, the Stanford Cardinal were looking to extend their momentum from the previous week, where they upset #2 UCLA and #10 UC Irvine. As a result of those wins, Stanford shot up the USA Today/AVCA poll, jumping from #11 all the way to #6. The Cardinal beat the Bruins and Anteaters with a combination of strong back-row defense, heady sets by Kevin Hansen, and diversified offense from David Vogel, Ben Reddy, Chris Ahlfeldt, and Craig Buell.

Don Shaw's troops knew that this weekend would not be a walk in the park, as the Long Beach State 49er's were ranked #2 in the recent poll and unranked UC San Diego Tritons were always dangerous at home. Although Stanford lost a tough 3-1 match against Long Beach on Friday night, the Cardinal were looking to salvage their So Cal trip with a victory against the Tritons.

Alas, it was not to be. For the first time in its program history, UC San Diego defeated Stanford, 3-1, as five Tritons notched double digits in kills. In addition, UC San Diego's huge block made the difference in the match, as 6'5" middle blockers Kevin Keyser and Adam Rusch notched a match-leading 10 and five blocks, respectively. Ben Reddy led the way for Stanford, notching a solid .421 hitting percentage on his way to a career high 23 kills.

Game One

Starters: Kevin Hansen, setter; Patrick Bomhack, opposite; David Vogel, outside hitter; Ben Reddy, outside hitter; Craig Buell, middle blocker; Chris Ahlfeldt, middle blocker; Jeremy Jacobs, libero.

In the early going, service aces by juniors Patrick Bomhack and Craig Buell, along with two quick kills by junior David Vogel, propelled Stanford out to a 11-8 lead. However, the Tritons would take the lead for good at 13-14, when Triton outside hitter Jeff Urton tooled the Stanford block. When UC San Diego obtained a seven-point lead at 17-24, Stanford made a mini-comeback. A few Triton errors, three kills by sophomore Ben Reddy, and tough serving from sub sophomore Nick Manov, allowed Stanford to close the gap to three at 23-26. Despite great back-row defense from the Cardinal, and scrappiness from Chris Ahlfeldt, who scrambled into the stands to save a ball, a kill by Triton opposite Jim Waller squashed any hopes of a Stanford win in Game One when he powered home a kill, giving his team a four-point cushion at 23-27. UC San Diego held on at the end and won the set off of an Ahlfeldt hitting error. An upset was brewing and the sparse crowd at the RIMAC center was starting to get into the match.

Game Two

Starters: Kevin Hansen, setter; Nick Mavov, opposite; David Vogel, outside hitter; Ben Reddy, outside hitter; Craig Buell, middle blocker; Chris Ahlfeldt, middle blocker; Jeremy Jacobs, libero.

At the end of Game One, Reddy was starting to warm-up, where he tallied four kills, three in the later stage of the game. He would continue his stellar offensive display during a stretch midway through that would push Stanford ahead of UC San Diego for good in the second game. Stanford opened up the second game with Kevin Hansen and Ahlfeldt putting the clamps on UC San Diego's Adam Toren, blocking him stone cold. From this point on, the two teams traded points back and forth, until the two were tied at 10 points each. Stanford displayed a combination of smart hitting, behind kills from middle blockers Buell and Ahlfeldt, and ball control from Vogel, Reddy, and Jeremy Jacobs in their passing. Tied at 10-a-piece, Stanford would make an 12-5 run that would ultimately be the difference in the game. In this decisive run, Reddy totaled four kills and an ace to push Stanford ahead of the Tritons. In one play, Vogel served a short serve, which caused chaos amongst the Triton passers; a long rally ensued, which ended when Reddy went up against two Triton blockers, found the seam, and absolutely hammered the ball. Reddy would end up with eight kills alone in this game, as Stanford wound up winning rather comfortably, 30-23.

Game Three

Starters: Kevin Hansen, setter; Nick Mavov, opposite; David Vogel, outside hitter; Ben Reddy, outside hitter; Craig Buell, middle blocker; Chris Ahlfeldt, middle blocker; Jeremy Jacobs, libero.

The third game was a battle of wills and nerves, featuring 17 ties and 17 lead changes. The first 24 points alone accounted for 12 ties and 12 lead changes, each side unable to shake the other. Whether it was Ahlfeldt and Buell getting quick kills out of the middle, Reddy slipping a kill through the Triton block, or spectacular diving defense by Jacobs in the backrow, the Cardinal were not able to take a sizable lead against the Tritons. However, Stanford was able to slowly pull away when Hansen made a spectacular dump to push the Cardinal ahead by three at 15-12. The Card were able to extend that lead to four, 18-14, on a kill by Manov. Though the Cardinal would end up leading for most of Game Three, the Tritons proved that no lead was safe, as they were able to claw their way back and tie the game twice, once at 19-19 and then again at 28-28. Stanford gave up their lead due to good backrow defense by the Tritons and doubling Stanford's outside hitters Vogel and Reddy at every opportunity. Stanford was up 29-28 on a kill by Reddy, but a kill by Waller put the Tritons even with the Cardinal once again at 29-29. UC San Diego would get its chance at taking the game when Urton got a kill, but a service error by Toren would pull Stanford even once again. Eventually, UC San Diego would end up taking the match, 33-31, as back-to-back kills from Waller and Urton sealed the deal.

Game Four

Starters: Kevin Hansen, setter; Nick Mavov, opposite; David Vogel, outside hitter; Ben Reddy, outside hitter; Craig Buell, middle blocker; Chris Ahlfeldt, middle blocker; Jeremy Jacobs, libero.

Stanford won the first point of the game, when Ahlfeldt slammed home a kill off of the Triton block. However, this would turn out to be the only lead of the game, as UC San Diego raced to a 13-8 lead, with Toren and Waller doing most of the offensive damage for the Tritons. Stanford was able to pull within 14-13 on an attack error by UC San Diego's Kevin Keyser, but the Tritons went on a 5-0 run that would eventually make the difference in the match. While playing brilliantly for most of the match, Reddy was ineffective in Game Four, as his swings were either dug or out. UC San Diego's big block asserted itself in Games Three and Four, with nine total blocks, and it affected Reddy's hitting. Midway through the game, he was replaced by sophomore William Clayton. Although Clayton was able to trim the deficit to four with a kill, UC San Diego went on a 5-1 run, thanks to three straight Cardinal hitting errors, to increase their lead to 24-16. While Stanford's block was absent for most of the match, Ahlfeldt and Manov combined to stuff Waller, giving the Cardinal some spark and emotion, as it pulled them to within seven, at 19-26. However, Vogel sent his serve long, deflating any momentum Stanford had created from the previous point. A kill by Urton ended the match, as UC San Diego won 30-27, 23-20, 33-31, and 30-22.

Game Notes

Overall, the defense seemed solid, as the backrow players were able to dig the Tritons. There was some great hustle out on the floor, especially from Ahlfeldt, who on a play described early, sacrificed his body to keep the ball in play. Jacobs did a good job too, with some spectacular diving digs. During the serve receive, Jacobs, Vogel, and Reddy took all of the serves, with much success. With great passes comes great offensive choices, and Hansen was able to distribute the ball evenly among the outsides and middles, with Reddy and Vogel getting 38 and 27 swings and Ahlfeldt and Buell getting 25 and 22 attempts.

However, the passing seemed to break down towards the end of the match, as Hansen kept on going to the outsides and the Tritons would have two blockers up on Vogel and Reddy almost every time. Eventually, Reddy just got worn down, as his balls were not hit as hard or placed as well as in the earlier stages in the match. Vogel hit at a –.037 clip, as he was not able to put the ball down as much as he would have liked. These two are not the most overpowering outside hitters Stanford has seen, but they are able to be effective at the Division I level because they can find the seam and place the ball where there are no diggers. Unfortunately, Vogel was just not able to get into a groove. As athletes, they are trained to block out all outside distractions, but perhaps some of UC San Diego's designated hecklers among the crowd of 323 were able to affect Vogel and Reddy, who seemed to be their favorite target. Chants of "Ben's not Ready!" (a cute play off of his last name, Reddy) and "Go back to Poway!" (a heckle directed at Vogel, who is from nearby Poway, CA) were heard throughout the match.

This team will never win a match with their blocking abilities, as Buell and Ahlfeldt did not put up a block that could affect the Tritons. The Cardinal stuffed the Tritons five times, although it seemed even less. Every time a Triton attacker went up, the block was almost non-existent. Conversely, the Tritons finished with a team total of 17.5 blocks. The middles were able to intimidate the Stanford squad into committing errors. While a lack of a big block might have contributed to the loss, the Cardinal's backrow defense was not as solid as it was in early phases of the game.

None of the players on Stanford's roster are particularly intimidating, and individually they are not as great as Stanford has seen, in the mold of Canyon Ceman, Mike Lambert, or Matt Fuerbringer. However, these individuals play as a team and they are a very cohesive unit, with Hansen being the glue that keeps them together. Special mention has to go out to Hansen. He played a great game, as he hustled after every ball coming his way and really fired up his team when they needed it. He also had some timely kills of his own, contributing to the offensive flow of the game. He is a big-time player and as a result, Stanford will always be a dangerous foe.

Coming into this season, no one thought much of Stanford, as they were losing one of their best senior classes ever, which included the much revered Curt Toppel. However, coach Don Shaw has done a great job at getting his players to come together as a team, as witnessed by their upsets of UCLA and UC Irvine. Although these two losses to Long Beach State and UC San Diego may seem like a set-back, he will no doubt have Stanford ready and waiting for their next opponent. They may not make the Final Four this year, but they will prove that they will not be a pushover and can compete with the big boys.

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