New faces equate to optimistic outlook | January 6, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 6, 2017

New faces equate to optimistic outlook

Freshmen rated No. 1 recruiting class in the nation

by Rick Eymer

The Stanford men's volleyball team returns four starters, including first team All-American Evan Enriques at libero, from a squad that tied for second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation last season and was sixth in the final national ranking.

The Cardinal (19-6, 17-5 MPSF last year) opens the season ranked ninth in the AVCA preseason poll and predicted to finish seventh in the MPSF.

Stanford, which opens its season Friday at the UCSB ASICS Invitational in Santa Barbara, lost a highly-regarded senior class that included three AVCA first-team All-Americans in Conrad Kaminski and James Shaw (first team) and Madison Hayden (honorable mention) but replaced it with the No. 1 rated recruiting class in the nation that includes Santa Barbara native Eli Wopat, whose older sister Carly was a three-time All-American for the Cardinal (2011-13) and is one of just three players in program history to record 600 or more blocks.

Also back from the starting lineup are middle blocker Kevin Rakestraw, an All-MPSF honorable mention pick in 2016, redshirt senior opposite Gabriel Vega and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Ewert.

Enriques was the first winner of the Erik Shoji Award, given to the nation's top libero by Off The Block. The junior was named a first team preseason All-American by the site, which collects votes from head coaches around the nation. Ewert, Rakestraw, Vega and freshman Paul Bischoff all received votes.

Junior Kyle Dagostino is another valuable returning player, along with juniors Clay Jones, Colin McCall, and Jake Stuebner. Sophomores Ryan Smith, Matt Klassen, Chris Moore, and Russell Dervay also return with limited experience.

Bischoff is the centerpiece of the freshmen class, coming in as Volleyball Magazine's national prep Player of the Year and ranked second on USA volleyball's Fab 50 list.

"He has the talent to become a premier setter in the MPSF and the work ethic to match," Stanford coach John Kosty said. "Of the many prospects in this class, he is probably the best athlete in the position. But he is much more than that. He has command of the offense and has the ability to run the offense at a very quick pace. He can make bad passes look good and is an above-average defender."

Wopat had been on Stanford's radar since his middle school days.

Eric Beatty, Stephen Moye, Jacob Thoenen, and Mason Tufuga complete one of the top freshmen classes to have played at Stanford.

This weekend, the Cardinal faces Mount Olive and Quincy on Friday at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, and takes on McKendree at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Stanford's home opener, Friday, Jan. 13 in Maples Pavilion, features defending national champion and top-ranked Ohio State. The Cardinal and Buckeyes will also square off on Saturday, Jan. 14 in Burnham Pavilion.

Mount Olive finished 12-12 last year. The Trojans are an experienced team, with nine upperclassmen on a roster of 15.

Quincy was 18-23 in 2016 and McKendree, which opened the season with a tough, five-set loss at No. 5 Pepperdine on Wednesday.

The Bearcats are in their fourth season of men's volleyball, return all of their starters from 2016 and boast eight seniors on its roster.

Meanwhile, BYU was picked to win the MPSF, followed by UCLA, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, Pepperdine, and Hawai'i.

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