Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 10, 2014

A tough road to the finals

Men's volleyball opens season with Final Four as its eventual goal

by Rick Eymer

Senior outside hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin have been through the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball wars enough to know that there's never an easy weekend.

It will take some doing to qualify for the NCAA championships in Chicago come May, though fourth-ranked Stanford certainly has the talent to get to the Final Four.

Stanford (1-0) plays No. 8 Lewis in its home opener on Friday at 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal also plays Saturday in Burnham Pavilion at 7 p.m. against Grand Canyon College.

Stanford opened its season with a seventh-place showing at the UC Santa Barbara tournament last weekend, with only its final match, a regulation contest against then No. 2 UCLA, counting toward its record.

Cook and Irvin return as the most experienced players for a team that returns its top six point producers, top setter and top two liberos from last year.

Cook (475 points) and Irvin (394 1/2) are two of the four seniors upon whom the Cardinal (12-12 in the MPSF last year, 15-15 overall) will look for leadership this season.

Eric Mochalski (247) and Denny Falls (119 1/2) are also seniors with plenty of experience to bring to the table.

Add redshirt junior Daniel Tublin (111 1/2) and sophomore setter James Shaw (101 1/2) to the mix, along with redshirt junior liberos Scott Sakaida (.957 reception return success) and Grant Delgado (.959) and coach John Kosty has to be feeling pretty good about Stanford's chances.

Kosty's squad won the 2010 NCAA championship in front of a home crowd. A new set of seniors hope to return to the top.

The journey, as is usual in the highly competitive MPSF, will be lined with pitfalls, rough edges and tough teams, including two-time defending national champion UC Irvine and current No. 1 Long Beach State.

In fact, eight of the top 10 nationally ranked teams are members of the MPSF, which features a home- and-home format that makes every meeting notable.

The 49ers, who won the UCSB tournament to earn its top ranking this week, reached the MPSF tournament championship last year before losing to BYU.

The Anteaters did not even reach the title match of the conference tournament but came back to win the national title with a victory over the Cougars. That's how tough it is to win in the MPSF.

Cook, whose older sister Karissa played volleyball at Stanford, is one of six returning first team All-MPSF selections. Irvin was a second-team pick.

Shaw, whose father Don coached both the men's and women's volleyball programs at Stanford, was accorded honorable mention. He was also named to the all-freshmen team.

Junior middle blocker Spencer Haly made 15 starts last year, averaging 1.12 kills and 1.08 blocks per set. Juniors Matt Aiello and Sean Kemper saw limited action.

Shaw leads a sophomore class that also includes Conrad Kaminski, who recorded 16 kills in 19 sets. Joe Ctvrtlik, Gabriel Vega and Madson Hayden also saw action. Alex Stephanus recorded four kills in one set.

With so many returning veterans, the highly-regarded freshmen may find it difficult breaking into the lineup. Seven-footer Kevin Rakestraw leads a decorated four-man rookie class that should push for playing time. Setter Cole Fiers and outside hitters Clay Jones and Colin McCall complete the newcomers.

This weekend are the final two nonconference matches before MPSF play opens with a trip to UCLA for a rematch with the Bruins on Jan. 17.

Lewis (1-1) opened the season last week with a four-set loss to UC Irvine in Romeoville, Ill. The Flyers bounced back with a four-set win over then-No. 3 BYU.

Junior outside hitter Greg Petty leads Lewis after two matches, averaging 3.63 kills and 4.44 points per set. Redshirt junior Geoff Powell has added 3.50 kills and 3.88 points per set.

Women's basketball

For the fifth time this season, Stanford senior basketball forward Chiney Ogwumike was named Pac-12 Player of the Week. It is also the 14th time in her career that she has earned the honor, extending her Pac-12 record.

Ogwumike enjoyed a milestone weekend as No. 4 Stanford (2-0, 13-1) opened the Pac-12 season with a home sweep of Oregon and Oregon State. The Cypress, Texas native became the Pac-12's all-time leading rebounder Friday against the Ducks, grabbing 14 rebounds and passing former teammate Kayla Pedersen's benchmark of 1,266.

Ogwumike followed that with 13 rebounds in Sunday's 89-67 win over Oregon State, increasing her career rebounding total to 1,284 at the end of the weekend. She averaged 32.0 points and 13.5 rebounds over the two wins, scoring 33 points in Friday's 96-66 win over Oregon before netting 31 against the Beavers, and shot 59.6 percent from the field. Against Oregon State, she also passed out a career-high six assists.

Football

Stanford junior Ty Montgomery was named the recipient of the Jet Award, presented to the nation's top kick return specialist.

Montgomery led the nation with a 31.2 yards per kickoff return average while taking a pair of kicks back for touchdowns. Montgomery ranked ninth with 161.0 all-purpose yards per game and had 10 games with at least 100 plus all-purpose yards.

A consensus All-American at kick returner, Montgomery earned All-Pac-12 first-team honors at kick returner and second-team honors at wide receiver.

Montgomery travels to New Haven, Conn., this weekend for the Walter Camp All-America Weekend.

Stanford, meanwhile, finished 11th in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll following the Cardinal's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl last week.

Women's gymnastics

Stanford senior Amanda Spinner was named the Pac-12 Specialist of the Week, as announced by the conference Tuesday.

Spinner, the reigning Pac-12 Specialist of the Year and Pac-12 co-champion on beam, picked up right where she left off and delivered a 9.850 at the NorCal Quad Meet at Sacramento State to tie for the individual title on the event.

Stanford won the season-opening meet, defeating California, Sacramento State, UC Davis and San Jose State.

Stanford plays host to No. 8 Georgia this Sunday at 2 p.m. in Maples Pavilion. Admission is free.

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