Irvin leads No. 4 Stanford to four-set victory against fifth-ranked UCLA
STANFORD, Calif. - Steven Irvin produced his best match of the season on Tuesday. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Stanford produced its best as well.
Irvin had 14 kills in a strong all-around performance to lead Stanford to a 27-25, 19-25, 25-14, 25-12 victory against UCLA in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball action at Maples Pavilion.
Lost in Stanford's second consecutive loss of the weekend, on Sunday at Pepperdine, was Irvin's 11-kill, .348 performance. After opening the season with his hand in a cast because of a broken finger, that match seemed to provide a hint that Irvin, a 2012 all-conference player, was starting to return to form.
"Steven Irvin stepped it up tonight," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "He had an incredible match. It's nice to see him getting into his groove early in the season. This is just the start of something great for him."
Irvin hit .480, had eight digs, four service aces, three assists, and two blocks. Teammate Brian Cook also had 14 kills and eight digs, along with three assists and two blocks. Behind the junior tandem of Irvin and Cook, Stanford extended two winning streaks -- overall home victories to 11 and six in a row at home against the Bruins, who haven't won at Maples since 2005.
The performance was in contrast to the weekend when Stanford (5-2 overall, 2-2 MPSF) lost to both USC and Pepperdine on the road. UCLA (6-4, 2-2) arrived with a No. 4 ranking, the same as Stanford's, but added to the inconsistencies throughout the MPSF. UC Irvine (1-3 in the MPSF), for instance, is ranked No. 3 in the country, but in 12th place in the 13-team conference.
So, to explain the inconsistency in performance, Kosty referred to youth.
"A lot of MPSF teams have young teams and new starters," Kosty said. "Right now, you've got to win at home and hopefully grab one on the road, because everybody is beating everybody."
But for Stanford, there was much more to this victory -- one that started with a rally (from a 22-18 first-set deficit) and ended with a rout.
An Irvin solo block on UCLA 7-footer Robart Page cut the deficit to 22-20, and Irvin, a junior outside hitter, continued the Cardinal run with a kill, block, and kill to extend Stanford's Irvin's point streak to four. Three times Irvin put Stanford in front during that final stretch, before a Cook block won the set.
The Bruins easily outdistanced Stanford in the second to tie it up, but the Cardinal returned the favor by breaking out to a steady lead. But it was Jake Kneller, the lone returner from Stanford's 2010 championship team, who slammed the door on UCLA.
A stuff block for 18-13 was only the beginning for Kneller. On three consecutive points, Kneller blocks scored for Stanford, setting up a set point that was won when UCLA hitter Gonzalo Quiroga tried to hit over Kneller, but the ball went long.
"He's a very competitive and talented player that brings energy and competitiveness on the court," Kosty said. "That's what he does at practice too."
Another difference maker was Grant Delgado. In the most extensive playing time in the career of the third-year sophomore, Delgado entered as a reserve and settled the Cardinal defense. With constant communication and hand-slapping with setter James Shaw, Delgado provided the encouragement and play that appeared to be just what Stanford needed.
"Grant did a great job of doing his job, which is digging great balls, communicating, and setting in transition," Kosty said.
There were others, of course.
"We had a great team win [Tuesday]," Kosty said.
And, with a healthy Irvin and a variety of teammates who are beginning to assert themselves and battle for playing time, it appears Stanford has something to build upon.