Stanford, Penn State reach final
By Jake Curtis
Special to The Advertiser
PALO ALTO, Calif. —Stanford senior setter Kawika Shoji is one victory away from completing a turnaround that seemed impossible three years ago.
As a freshman out of 'Iolani School in Honolulu, Shoji and the Cardinal suffered through a 3-25 season that he called "demoralizing."
But last night, one day after being named national men's volleyball Player of the Year, Shoji contributed 44 assists in the top-ranked Cardinal's decisive 30-25, 30-26, 30-17 sweep of 10th-ranked Ohio State in the NCAA semifinals at Stanford.
But the Cardinal (23-6) must first beat No. 12 Penn State (24-7), a 30-21, 30-23, 30-28 upset winner over second-ranked Cal State Northridge, in the national final tomorrow at 1 p.m. Hawai'i time.
Shoji is one of seven Hawai'i athletes on the Stanford roster, four of whom are starters. Although this is Stanford's first NCAA tournament appearance since 1997 when it won its only national title, coach John Kosty thinks the attention Hawai'i volleyball players get growing up helps them deal with the pressure of playing in this high-profile event. The players agree.
"That's true, volleyball is in the spotlight back home," Shoji said. "In Hawai'i you're in the media a lot with cameras and all."
Sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson, who also attended 'Iolani, had 14 kills for the Cardinal, and he was the driving force behind a late surge in the first game that turned the match in Stanford's favor.
The score was tied 23 when Lawson had a kill, a service ace and another kill in rapid succession to give the Cardinal a 28-24 lead.
"To be honest, I had butterflies before the game," said Lawson, the Pacific Mountain Volleyball Federation player of the year. "But after we got into it, it was just a volleyball match."
Sophomore Erik Shoji (Punahou School), one of three first-team All-America selections along with Lawson and older brother Kawika, contributed 12 digs while Spencer McLachlin (Punahou School), the fourth starter from Hawai'i, added six kills, a solo block and three block assists. He assisted on a crucial block in the second game to give Stanford a 21-17 lead.
But Kawika Shoji had the play of the night when he nearly ran out of the gym to keep a ball in play, enabling the Cardinal to win a point for a 17-11 lead in the third game.
"I try to be as dynamic as I can," Shoji said. "I think I was a little too excited tonight. Ohio State came out and played well. We weathered the storm and put pressure on them."
Evan Romero helped with 15 kills for Stanford.
"We knew we had to try and get in front of Romero," Ohio State coach Pete Hanson said. "We didn't do enough of that."
Shawn Sangrey had 12 kills for the Buckeyes (22-8), who had their 12-match winning streak come to an end.
In the first semifinal, Will Price and Joe Sunder each had 18 kills for the Nittany Lions in their sweep of the Matadors (23-10).
Penn State libero Dennis Del Valle added 17 digs and setter Edgardo Goas recorded 49 assists.
The Nittany Lions won their fourth straight to advance into tomorrow's final.
"This is the toughest grind I've put any of my teams through as far as travel," Nittany Lions' coach Mark Pavlik said. "It's hard to win on the road and we had to play those kind of matches. We passed the first test and the next one will be a lot different."
Jacek Ratajczak had 15 kills for the Matadors, who were making their first appearance in the NCAA final four in 17 years.
"We looked like we haven't been here in 17 years," Matadors' coach Jeff Campbell said. "And they looked like they've been here every year. We played tight and with some nerves. We didn't start playing well until the third set."
The Nittany Lions quickly broke out in the third set, taking an 11-4 advantage as Price, Sunder and first-team All-American Max Lipsitz combined for seven kills during the early run.
Northridge made it 27-26 before Price drove home a shot down the line for a two-point advantage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.