May 6, 2010

By Jake Curtis
Special to NCAA.com

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- No. 1-ranked Stanford moved within one victory of completing an unlikely ascent from a 3-25 season in 2007 to a national championship in 2010 by overpowering Ohio State in the NCAA men's volleyball semifinals Thursday night at Stanford's Maples Pavilion.

The Cardinal got stronger as the match went on and was in complete control at the end of its 3-0 victory, winning by scores of 30-25, 30-26, 30-17.

"It's been told a lot about the worst to first," Stanford coach John Kosty said, "and it's nice to see it coming to fruition." Stanford (23-6) will play third-seeded and 12th-ranked Penn State in the championship game Saturday at 4 p.m. The match on Stanford's home court will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN360.

Ohio State (22-8) entered Thursday's action riding a 12-match winning streak, but Stanford never let the Buckeyes feel comfortable as the Cardinal improved its record to 14-1 on its home floor.

Stanford used balance to wear down the Buckeyes, getting 15 kills from Evan Romero and 14 from first-team All-American Brad Lawson. And it was the Romero's emotion that seemed to fuel the team.

"I like to bring a little Latin fire," said Romero, who is from Miami Lakes, Fla.

Stanford's All-American libero Erik Shoji came up with 12 digs, and his brother, Kawika Shoji, who on Wednesday was named national player of the year, had 44 assists.

Ohio State had more postseason experience, competing in the national semifinals for the third straight year, but the Cardinal, which is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since it won its only title in 1997, had a distinct homecourt edge.

Kosty thought the Buckeyes' postseason experience may have been countered by Stanford having seven Hawaiians on the team, four of whom are starters. Hawaiian volleyball players grow up with heavy media attention, because the sport is so popular there, so they were not intimidated by being in the spotlight. Stanford took command midway through each game.

"We weathered the storm and then put pressure on them at the end of every game," Kawika Shoji said, "and that's been the story for this team all season."

Lawson made the pivotal plays in the first game.

Ohio State held a 19-17 lead, and the Cardinal did not take the lead for good until a Lawson kill made it 24-23. A net violation by Ohio State made it 25-23, and Lawson had an ace and a kill to make it a 28-24 game. Romero finished it off with powerful kill for the 30-25 final.

Stanford took control early in the second game, building a 6-2 lead. The Cardinal stayed in command of the game from that point. The Buckeyes got as close as 18-16 and still trailed by just two when a Lawson dink put the Cardinal ahead 25-22. The best point of the match took place next. After both teams came up with a number of impressive digs to keep the point going, Romero finished it with a kill that made it 26-22, evoking a roar from the partisan Stanford crowd.

That may have signaled the end for the Buckeyes, who never quite recovered. Romero followed with a service ace to make it 27-22, and eventually finished off the second game with an authoritative kill.

Stanford jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the third game and was never in danger. The Buckeyes got as close as 19-14, but an Ohio State serving error followed by Spencer McLachlin dink and a Lawson kill made it 22-14 in favor of Stanford, and the Cardinal cruised in from there. -30-