No snappy image to come up with this time, as it’s a non-conference match between the MPSF’s Stanford Cardinal and the George Mason Patriots out of the EIVA. Both teams played last night, with Stanford four-set victors over Grand Canyon and George Mason having suffered a sweep at the hands of University of the Pacific.
One player I did not mention in my little season preview pieces was Stanford’s primary setter James Shaw. The setter I thought would run the Stanford offense isn’t actually on the roster any longer, and Shaw had a superb collegiate debut against Grand Canyon last night, earning the “Player of the Match” honors for the Stanford broadcast (whatever that’s worth). Off the Block have projected Shaw as the front-runner for MPSF Newcomer of the Year, so he’s definitely one to keep your eyes on.
George Mason being picked second in the EIVA is actually pretty high praise considering the stranglehold Penn State have had on that conference. But they did not perform very well against Pacific on Friday, losing in three (albeit competitive) sets against the 11th team in the MPSF. They face much sterner opposition tonight.
Stanford started the match off nicely with a service ace from Shaw, which went off the back-row receiver for Mason and straight down. He promptly gave it back on the next serve right into the net. Brian Cook (younger brother of Karissa, now-graduated setter on the women’s team) came up with a great solo block on the right side to give the Cardinal a quick edge at 3-1. Shaw fed the middles early, and Eric Mochalski came up with an emphatic kill to bring it to 5-3 as the set played even for a little while. He followed with a solo block of his own to give Stanford their first 3-pont advantage at 7-4. Daniel Tublin extended the run to 8-4 with another huge swing from the middle, prompting Mason to take an early timeout.
The run, on Cook’s serve, continued out of the timeout with another right-side block to make it 9-4. Cook whiffed a bit on his jump on the next serve, and didn’t quite catch up to it, making his serve go long. But really, you’ll take such a run on serve 7 days a week. Play was briefly stopped at 10-5, for reasons of which I’m not quite sure. Stanford’s strong serving continued after the stoppage with another ace, this one from Mochalski. Mason managed to return the following serve, but just barely, and could only do so with a weak ball that left Stanford only too capable of setting up their offense, to go up seven. They had yet another strong serve on 12-5, leading to an overpass from the libero. However, the ball simply fell in, for the uber-rare libero kill. I’m sure the coach will have words with them about that.
Shaw went back to the service line with the Cardinal leading 13-7, but the Patriots sided out with a great quick set play to the left side for Shaun Sibley. Mason uncorked a service error to make it 15-9, confirming my questions of whether the automatic timeout would take place at 15 if a charged timeout took place before (it didn’t). Mason took their second charged timeout trailing 16-9 and looking a little bit outmatched. At 16-10, Mason returned an overpass that hit the scoreboard over the court (which wasn’t visible from the camera shooting the match). Evidently the rule is if it hits it and lands on your side, the rally can continue, but if it hits it and goes to the other side, you lose the point.
Shaw came up again nicely on 19-12, as another big serve from one of his teammates led to a slight overpass and a joust at the net. He just took it away from the Mason setter Javier Perez and found a wide-open empty court. Impressive play. At 20-13, somebody got away with a net violation, as it was moving around like crazy, but there was no call. The Patriots closed to within 20-15 and Stanford called time. Tublin and Spencer Haly brought the Cardinal to set point with a left-side double block at 24-17. The Patriots saved the first set point, and showed some remarkable hustle to keep the ball alive on the second, but they ended up blocking the ball out to give a 25-18 first set final.
Mason hit zero for the first set, with 10 kills and 10 errors, only siding out on about half their opportunities. Stanford hit .333 and had six blocks to Mason’s 3.5, both pretty stark advantages.
I wonder how the officials would have called the rally on 1-0 if it extended a little bit longer than it had. It looked like the ball hit the net on Stanford’s side and not the block, which would have made any subsequent contact of theirs the fourth. This isn’t something that I often see called, though. The ball simply fell in to give Mason the first two points of the set, and went up three at 4-1 as their serving was looking good early in set 2. The Stanford hit on the rally at 5-2 went straight into the tape on the top of the net, putting the Patriots up four. 6-3 was one of the longest rallies of the match. Despite shouting “Out!” on Tublin’s serve, Mason played it. After good swings on both sides, Stanford closed back to within two with a left-side kill through a triple block. Off a nice little back set from Shaw, Cook got the match back to a one-point deficit at 7-6 with a kill from the right side. Mason, however, extended it back to 9-6 with a strong middle block. The Mason setter Perez ended a really fast play on the following rally with a surprisingly slow dump to the middle of Stanford’s court. Surprising most in that it worked. Stanford took time trailing 10-6.
After a few sideouts, Mason extended to a 5-point edge at 14-9 by stuffing Tublin such that their block caused him to also be called for a lift. 14-10 was another long rally, ending with Mason getting a right-side kill off the block and out. It looked like the Stanford libero Scott Sakaida also did an overhand set from in front of the midline, which ain’t allowed, but it wasn’t called. Mochalski’s solo block, his third such block of the match, brought the Cardinal back within three at 16-13. He came up again to close the set to two, and I thought for sure Mason would call time, but they did not. The Patriots sided out on a service error to make it 17-14. The Mason sever had a powerful serve on 17-14, but it looked sure to be heading out. Stanford played it anyway, and wound up winning the point with a block led by Shaw. Mason finally took time after Tublin’s right-side kill made it just a one-point set at 17-16.
The Patriots were able to side out coming back from the timeout, to go up 18-16. Despite the Mason defense barely keeping up and looking out of system on the subsequent rally, Mochalski bailed them out with a wide swing for a hitting error. 19-16 was another long rally, and the Cardinal were almost able to keep the ball alive. The point ended with the libero lunging for the ball, keeping it up mere inches off the ground to where it encountered a teammate in right-back. He just didn’t quite have tight enough reflexes to send an arcing ball back over to the other side. Great point, though. It brought about Stanford’s second timeout. The seesaw second set (by the seashore) continued with three straight for the Cardinal to force Mason’s last timeout, with the score 20-19.
Michael Kvidahl sided the Patriots out to go back up 21-19. Mason’s kill from the middle to go up 23-21 came on a nice set to the middle that the blocker Sibley just obliterated. Mason kept siding out, and got their first set point of the night (and indeed, season) at 24-22. Mochalski and Tublin staved off the first set point with a left-side double block. The Cardinal got absolutely robbed on the second set point, as Mason hit the ball directly into the tape on the top of the net, with it landing out on their side. Stanford quite understandably celebrated having extended the set to extra points, but the up referee ruled it off their block, which meant Mason won the set 25-23. Horrible, horrible call. It really wasn’t even close.
Mason hit much better in the second set, at .268. Stanford hit .298, but their serving definitely wasn’t as good as in the first, either statistically (aces/errors) or just in terms of disrupting the Mason offense (which is really the primary goal of serving).
Stanford got the first point on serve for either team in set 3, but it still only put them up a point at 4-3. They went up two for the first time at 6-4 with a double block on the left side. Mason drew it even again at 6, but then Stanford made it 8-6. Bizarre point on 9-7, as Mason’s serve reception went long for an overpass, but Stanford could only return a really soft shot — not exactly a free ball, but it wasn’t much of an attack either. No matter, as it fell in. Stanford took the next point as well to go up 11-7 at Mason’s timeout. Mochalski caught the Patriots napping a little bit with his big-jump serve back from the timeout, for an ace to go up 12-7. Andrew Dentler finally sided the Patriots out at 12-8, but that was a good run for Mochalski.
At 15-10, the Cardinal brought in a sub, Matt Aiello, to serve, and he let loose a beauty, putting the Patriots badly out of system, leading to a Stanford block. He got an ace on the next serve, sneaking it in the Mason right side. At 17-10, the up referee called Aiello for a service delay (automatic sideout – I believe it goes in the books as a service error), something I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen before. It’s sort of like the time limit on delivering a pitch in baseball. Strictly speaking, it exists, but when is it ever enforced? But from 17-10, it was damage done, and Stanford closed it out 25-16 with a kill from Haly off a dandy quick set by Shaw.
The match probably should have been over with that point, given the events of the late second, but it moved on to a fourth set. On the first rally of set 4, an attempt at a pancake on Mason’s side was called as a kill for Stanford a bit delayed. The defender Max McFarland was visibly upset by the delayed call, and the Mason captain had a few words with the up referee. The fourth set started off pretty evenly. At 5-3, Shaw came up with a really impressive move, dinking with his right hand by turning it towards his body. I imagine that must give the ball some kerr-azy spin. That put the Cardinal up three, an advantage that held steady for some time
After getting away with what seemed a netball on their first attack on 11-7, a far more obvious netball was called to put the Cardinal up five at 12-7 and Mason’s timeout. Tublin continued a fine match by coming up with an ace, Stanford’s sixth of the match to zero for Mason, to make it 15-9. To their credit, the Patriots kept tenacious, closing to 15-12 at Stanford’s timeout. The run continued coming out of the timeout. The libero Sakaida showed some emotion on the rally ending 15-13 as he kept the ball alive, but the player he passed to couldn’t. Mason’s first ace of the match made it 15-14, and what previously looked like it was all over suddenly looked like anybody’s set again. Steven Irvin led a double block for the Cardinal to go up 17-14. Mason setter Perez had a tough match, and he left a tough ball for his attacker to handle on the subsequent rally. The roll shot attempt, whether it was drawn up that way or not, went into the net, to just as quickly Stanford seized control again at 18-14. Cook extended the lead to five at 20-15 with a kill from the right side. It mostly held steady from there, with the Cardinal taking two on serve to close it out.
#3 Stanford d. George Mason (25-18, 23-25, 25-16, 25-18)
Mason looked good at the beginning of the second set, but Stanford looked really good all throughout. You’ve got to give credit to both sides for the second set, to Mason for taking a solid lead early and to Stanford for closing it. Shame it ended the way it did, but it had very little bearing on the outcome of the match itself.
Mason will win some matches. Eyeball test says this is a solid team. I’d expect them to make the EIVA tournament (top 4 of 8 make it), but I’m not sure they stand in the way of the Nittany freight train from State College, PA. Their biggest problem tonight was the first contact. Stanford’s serving tonight was just beastly. They ended the match with six aces, but it goes beyond that. When Mason were able to properly set their offense, and feed it to the mammoth middle blocker Sibley (at 6’9″, far and away the tallest player on the court), they scored with ease. It’s just they didn’t get to that position very much. Something to work on, no doubt.
George Mason next head home for matches with Grand Canyon, Loyola, and an exhibition tilt against a Puerto Rican squad. Stanford take on UC Santa Cruz (who they should destroy) and open MPSF play against Pacific with their respective home matches next Friday and Saturday.