CHICAGO, Ill. -- The celebration began on the floor Thursday night for Stanford’s James Shaw.
When teammate Brian Cook delivered the kill shot that finally ended the nearly three-hour semifinal match against rival BYU in the NCAA NC Men‘s Volleyball Championship, Shaw had fallen to the floor after making a play to set up the winner. Or maybe it was just exhaustion after the 219th point of the night.
Soon, Shaw was in the midst of an emotional Stanford celebration after the Cardinal rallied from one set down to defeat the Cougars in five sets. This was a match that was tied 27 times. Stanford rallied from two points down in both the final set and fourth set.
“It was an incredible match,” Shaw said. “It was so much fun to be a part of.”
“It was an absolute battle,“ Stanford coach John Kosty said.
Shaw had 59 assists. National player of the year Taylor Sander had 28 kills, just one short of his career high. It was the kind of match that will find its way into the video collection in the Shaw family home in Woodside, California. And for sure, the volleyball video collection in the Shaw home is quite extensive considering Don Shaw, James’ father, won four national titles as women‘s volleyball coach and also coached the men‘s team for seven seasons.
Among those watching from the stands Thursday were Don; his mom, Carolyn; and his grandparents. His sister, Jordan, would have been there except she was at a volleyball tournament of her own.
“It’s a family thing. I think something we all take pride in is the legacy we have in our family as a volleyball family,” James Shaw said.
Don Shaw greeted James in the hallway outside Stanford’s locker room for a hug and the meaningful words: “Congrats. That was amazing. Proud of you.”
On Saturday, Shaw and the Cardinal will try to win a national championship for the first time since 2010, when Stanford hosted the tournament and Shaw was still in high school waiting for a scholarship offer to roll in.
That would be a happy day not only for Shaw, but for Kosty, who was an assistant coach for Don Shaw before Don retired after more than 20 years as Stanford’s coach. Kosty was an assistant at Stanford before James was born.
“From when I held him as a baby and his dad was the women’s coach … I’ve known the family for a very long time,” Kosty said.
James has grown from the kid who used to follow his dad to Stanford for team practices to an important piece in Stanford’s lineup as a sophomore setter and outside hitter. He is also a two-year member of the USA Volleyball Junior Men’s National Team and has played in the junior world championships. U.S. Senior Men’s National Team coach John Spreraw was among those watching Thursday.
“He is the game changer,” Kosty said. “I also think that his supporting cast has really helped him mature this year and last year.
“I think over almost the last two seasons now he’s done an incredible job maturing through the process, understanding the game and situations.”
Cook, a senior outside hitter who played against Shaw in high school in California, has also seen the growth. Shaw was named an AVCA All-American this season.
“James has grown immensely over his career over the last two years,” Cook said. “We’ve played against each other for a long time. I’ve been able to watch him grow as a player and he’s truly amazing now. He’s just a luxury at the net for passers. We can put it high where he likes it. He’s playing at a very high level right now.”
And while Shaw grew up in a volleyball house, he says it wasn’t until his sophomore year in high school that he truly focused on the game.
“I didn’t really think I was going to be a volleyball player until my sophomore year in high school,” he said. “I kind of dropped baseball and basketball and started to focus on volleyball because I was pretty good at it.
“I knew I was better at volleyball. I was finally beginning to get college looks junior year. At that point, I pretty much knew.”
And now Shaw is attempting to help deliver a national title for Stanford. Team USA could come after that.
“He’s only going to get better,” Kosty said. “I think he has a long future ahead of him in volleyball and this is just one of his stopping points for him. It’s our job to keep continuing to improve him and continually keep him thinking about the right things day in and day out.”