In the first three games of the season, the No. 12 Stanford Men’s Volleyball (3-0, 0-0 MPSF) has already matched last season’s win tally and knocked out No. 15 UC Irvine (2-1, 0-0 Big). West) in the process.
The Cardinal’s scorching start comes as a big surprise to the team that left Smith Fieldhouse last spring with a first-round exit in what many believe would be the program’s last game ever. But after Stanford reversed its decision to scrap 11 varsity sports, including men’s volleyball, the program is looking to open a new chapter — one marked by resilience, success and growth. Above all, said head coach John Kosty, this season is all about joy.
“During and after the recovery there was just the realization that we are just one piece of this great Stanford men’s volleyball puzzle,” Kosty said. “It’s been going on since the ’60s and there are so many people who have played for us. It’s just a joy for all of us to be able to play in their honor.”
The Cardinal returned a smaller, older team than in years past after losing top student athletes to hitter Jaylen Jasper ’21, middle blocker Kyler Presho ’21 and outside hitter Kupono Browne (originally ’24) to the transfer portal and recruiting efforts. stopped while facing shutdown.
This year’s Stanford squad is a closer group, as last year they walked the bumps in the road together, something Kosty said was an inspiration to watch.
“Our boys are rough; they are determined and resilient,” said Kosty. “It’s an incredibly small, passionate group that feels like a real family and that turn their backs on each other and work hard for one common goal, and that goal is to get better every day.”
The newfound connection between the student-athletes has also filtered through to the coaching changes the staff has made this year, Kosty said.
“We all have a share in our success, and we all have a say in what we do and how we do it,” he said. “The players have a much more say in the strategy. We bring a lot of their input to the table as we look at each individual game going forward. We have a small team and our goal this year is to build that foundation that we had before. , really rebuild.”
On Friday, Stanford will have a chance to prove that his five-set win over UC Irvine on January 8 was not a fluke, but rather a sign of success. Stanford will face the Anteaters again, this time at UC Irvine, before traveling to La Jolla to face No. 10 UC San Diego (0-0, 0-0 Big West) on Saturday. To string together two more early wins, Stanford will have to rely on the arms of junior outside hitter Will Rottman and sophomore outside hitter Luke Turner, along with the consistent play of junior middle blocker Nathaniel Gates. The trio, who recorded 39 kills in the UCI victory, are part of what Kosty calls an all-hands-on deck approach, where all 14 student athletes will play a meaningful role in the team’s success.
The Anteaters’ offense includes three of the strongest pin-hitters in the country – including sophomore outside hitter Francesco Sani and freshman outside hitter Hilir Henno – making defense and playing clean a must for Stanford.
“It’s a formidable offense to counter,” Kosty said. “I thought we did really well last week. We blocked balls where they made mistakes and if they didn’t make mistakes we had our defense in a good position where we could dig balls and have chances to score transition points. That’s something we have to work on tomorrow.”
This season will look distinctly different from Stanford’s 2021 season, which saw the program pitted against top conference opponents without the typical off-season preparation and amid the team’s pending cancellation. This year, however, the cardinal will have an opportunity to build momentum and patch up any weaknesses ahead of the conference, which officially begins in March. But if Stanford can continue to play the way it has, the heart of the season can’t come soon enough.